Non-trads and managing to have it all...

or…at least have a little

I’m a lurker mostly…but I do chime in from time-to-time. My question for you non-trads that are navigating your way into med school etc is how do you manage your needs/interests with those of your family/spouse?

I am turning 37 this year, and I’m the proud mom of 5 great kids. My dh is a doc who is pretty established where he is at and so we aren’t really at the same point that we were at 10 years ago in terms of our ultimate flexibility.

We made the choice to have a big family and I felt pretty settled the last few years. I didn’t feel all tied up in knots about going to grad school/med school. I was pretty much at peace about it all and felt like I was where I needed to be.

I was diagnosed with a serious illness during my last pregnancy and really went through quite a bit as a result. Today is actually my 1 year anniversary of my final chemo treatment.

I feel…good…but now…I feel that my life has a greater purpose beyond being at home again…and I don’t know how to gel that with a family that is fairly established here.

My dh isn’t flexible about moving options and so I find myself trying to come up with career ideas that will meet the needs of the family.

I’m not really talking med school here anymore because I can’t imagine it being realistic to even consider as an option with 5 kids…but I know that many of you are in a similar situation to me…you have families, spouses, children…and not all are in a position to get up and move…

So…how do you do it?


Where in the country are you?

I’m in the upper midwest I don’t know that location matters really (except for the fact that we have been suffering through 7 months of winter this year and I feel like my head is going to explode.)

I think my question is fairly general…I’m looking at several different careers within the medical profession. My dh is very supportive right now of me going to med school, but we are also both all too aware of the sacrifices required.

I don’t live under the illusion that you can “have it all” anymore. I just want to know how everyone here balances their desire to have a professional life for themselves with a spouse who is more established professionally and children who are no longer infants/toddlers.

I know that I could probably ask this same question over at the SDN or MomMD…and I can do that if no one answers me here…I understand that I haven’t been a regular here and so I may not get an answer…I just want to hear the experience from other non-trads who are embarking on their careers after having started their families…with spouses established in other careers.

How do you guys do it and balance the needs of your tween kids/established spouses and your need to reach out professionally.

I personally don’t think that you can have it all, not perfectly anyway. Many sacrifices and compromises will be needed on this path to becoming a doctor.

Yes, you can have a family and be a doctor, just realize that at times when you want to do those special functions with your child, it just will not be possible if you are called on an emergency or something.

I think that it takes good planning and a good support system.

Some of the most miserable moms are those who thought they could have it all. MomMD has quite a number. There have to be sacrifices, either personal or professional but something will have to give.

And therein lies the question…you guys are living it, right…so how DO you find a balance between your own needs and those of your family? MomMD has its fair share of upbeat moms too (so don’t go hatin’ on mommd…I love that the women there are genuine and honest about their experiences!)…but many of the women are much younger than I am…which is why I am looking for a nontrad point of view on working towards career goals with family. I have heard the “you can do it” pep talks from my friends at mommd…but most of them are younger and don’t have the same family obligations that I do…

I would love to hear how other non-trads are finding creative ways to meet their own needs while they continue to meet the needs of a husband or wife who is already established in a career etc. That is what separates us here from the yungins at sdn (cough) and many of the members of groups like mommd.

I know I’m not as big of a poster here…but it does seem like every time I do get on to post a question I get few responses…so…I have no choice but to look elsewhere for a discussion or answers…It’s hard to get to know people when they don’t…really answer…

Tough crowd here…


Tough crowd? You limited it to nontrad mothers in your age bracket…kinda limits who will post.

and before some type of forum confluct starts…my post about MomMD is based on the threads I’ve read and the views I express are not those of OPM or its affiliates.

I didn’t ask to talk to non-trad moms in my age bracket…:o My question was for non-trads in general…

Kris -

I don’t have any children, and my fiance is highly supportive of me, and willing to help me out, take over most of the household duties and relocate, so my situation is quite a bit different, but I’ll take a shot here anyway.

Being in the midwest and your inability to re-locate makes a huge difference. If you were here in NYC with me, or out in Boston with the rest of my family, you’d have have a bunch of med school options without even having to leave the city and so I’d say your goal of becoming a doctor would be a heck of a lot more realistic.

Have you considered PA school? I’ve never tried it myself, but I’ve heard it’s pretty close to being a doctor, pays well, and doesn’t demand the amount of bulls***t from you or schooling that becoming a doctor does.

If you decide to aim for medical school with a family, you will have to understand that your life will be demanding to everyone else. Essentially, all of you will be going to school, not just yourself.

You have to consider the following factors: What are your childcare options? If you have an income now, how you will deal with the loss of it? Can you work and take pre-med classes? How supportive will your husband be? What about your children? Do you have anyone else around you who is supportive? How are your time management skills? What about your organizational skills? How good are you at prioritizing commitments? Will you have time to volunteer?

Skeeter…You do bring up some great points…I think that the inability to relocate is a huge issue and I wonder if that is something that other non-trads experience. I know that it was diff. for my husband because we were younger and didn’t have children at the time…it was easy to relocate.

I live a good 1.5 hours from the “big city” where I could go to med school, PA school, or get a Psych phd. All of those are options that I have currently on the table…but 1.5 hours one way is quite a journey and doesn’t even take into account heavy traffic.

We could move a bit closer but are limited by my husband’s requirements to live within 30 minutes of the hospital.

I honestly do not want him to have to leave his job any more than he wants to leave it. He is well-compensated, established and most important of all, he is happy with where he is at. That…is important to me.

I think that my children would adjust fine if we moved outside of the area a little bit…but I do think medicine (even though he is very supportive of this and is pushing it more than I am even showing interest anymore) would be a real stretch considering our large family and his restrictions because of his job.

He is a help though…doing 1/2 of the housework most of the time and working hard to attend as many kid activities as possible.

I have my pre-reqs out of the way, have a good MS and had a good mcat. I would have to retake the mcat because it is too old and may have to retake some of the other classes as well now simply due to their age…I am not currently employed for money, so income isn’t the issue.

I guess…time and my family’s happiness/needs are the issue. It is a tough decision to make…balancing my own needs would be easy…but adding my dh and kids into the mix certainly complicates things.


Well, I didn’t think I really had anything to contribute, but a whole lot of thoughts have come to mind as I’ve read this thread’s evolution. This is sort of stream-of-consciousness, a bunch of vignettes and thoughts I’ve carried around for the past several years:

I was 41 when I had the “epiphany,” I’ve called it, of deciding to pursue medicine as a career. Up until that point I’d had a variety of jobs, both paid and volunteer, and had been a very satisfied mom to my three kids. I did NOT like my job at the time and initially was a little afraid that my pursuit of medicine was a sort of midlife crisis or reaction to my crappy job. It took me only a little while to realize that I was in the right place.

But there are lots of places where I might have made different choices, OR had different choices pushed upon me. People ask me, “Since you like being a doctor so much, aren’t you sorry that you didn’t do it sooner?” And my answer is: no. Not at all. I put my heart and soul into being a SAHM and I loved growing up with my kids. (My firstborn arrived when I was 23.) They have turned into wonderful young adults and I feel good about the role I played in helping them grow up. I would not trade those years for ANYthing.

When I set out, I mused (fantasized occasionally!) about the possibility of going to med school in a different city, leaving my husband and daughter behind. (The other two kids were out of the nest at that point.) When I voiced this, my husband looked so completely horrified that I backed off. And then I realized: I had spent twenty years investing my time and love into this family, and I wasn’t going to do anything that jeopardized that!

I was diagnosed with MS after I started my pre-med path but had known it was a possibility since well before that. I was fortunate (still am) – I don’t have any significant impairments and am able to function daily without difficulty. But at any point along this path I might have encountered a relapse that put practicing medicine out of my reach, or significantly changed my plans. I might have had such an experience before I even got to med school, and had to change my plans.

My mom was diagnosed with lymphoma as I began medical school. As it turned out, she remained pretty functional right up until her death on New Year’s Day of my intern year. I was prepared to not start med school, or postpone it possibly indefinitely because in the end, my mom was more important. But she didn’t need me in that way and she really wanted to see me graduate - which she did. I discussed various deferment options with one of my deans, who pointed out the old truism, “No one’s tombstone reads, ‘I wish I had worked harder at the office.’ But lots of people regret not spending time with their family.”

I have personally felt that having the complicated demands of a family kept me from becoming an obsessive med student. I always felt like my center was within ME and not defined by my curriculum or residency. I have a life and an identity outside of medicine.

I think the question being asked here is, “Can you be satisfied with your life if you do not achieve a particular goal?” My answer to that is not just a resounding YES, but I would submit that no one should set a particular goal as the criterion for having a successful, happy or satisfying life- unless the goal is “to have a successful, happy and satisfying life,” I guess. Your life should be good because of what you do each day and who you do it with. Obviously you should have goals. But goals that sacrifice people are pretty small in my eyes.

This is all JMHO of course but I have been thinking about this for a long time… dunno if it will help anyone but I offer it for what it’s worth.


Kris you know me from mommd and hence know a lot about what I am going to say…but here it goes.

It is VERY hard going to medical school with children period. It is even harder (from my point of view) the more children you have and the younger they are. Medical school is an ALL consuming event for a period of time and you have to be willing to sacrifice the needs of your family for that time. If you can live with that then all is good…but if you cannot and will be beating yourself up then it will tear you up.

I am not saying that medicine is impossible with a large family but it will be more difficult. Also, your husband is a busy man and although he helps will he be able to pick up MOST of the slack while you pursue your dream? that is the question that you need to ask yourself and him. I would also caution you on embarking on this trip that “could” jeopardize your health (not sure exactly what your status is but just thinking out loud). Nothing in this world is more important than your health and that of your loved ones so doing anything that could set you back would not be good.

You could be just as fulfilled or even more so by choosing to do something that is not medical school but medical related like PA or a Ph.D in psychology (which you mentioned above). These degrees will offer you the opportunity to treat patients w/o a lot of the hassle that becoming and being a physiciaan entail.

Now to me, I have NO balance of anything and have not had it since I started medical school. My life mostly revolves around medical school. First it was the didactic years and getting through all the exams. Then it was the clinical years and working your bum off and studying for the shelf exams. After this it will be getting through intern year and beyond. There is NO end to this. Now, I do love it and would not change a thing BUT my family HAS suffered. My kids have to fend for themselves a lot bc hubby works FT and although he does ALL the work it’s not enough at times…so yeah there is a large price to pay.

Kris, you also know me from Mommd, and thus you may also know what I’m going to say…but I thought I’d chime in too.

I have fewer children than you (“only” 3!), and I’m 38…so in your ballpark range. Unlike you, I have not finished all the pre-reqs and MCAT, but do have a previous Master’s degree.

I know that med school is very consuming. I’m married to an ortho surgeon, and his residency is the reason we waited as long as we did to have children. However, I think that many other, if not all, professional careers are just as consuming and demanding, albeit possibly in different ways. However, there are women with families in those careers too, struggling with the same balance issues. I have friends who have left PhD programs because of these issues, friends who have left academia too. I have friends who own businesses who work 24/7 essentially, and friends who are farmers who work crazy hours. I guess what I am trying to say here is that I don’t think there’s actually a straight answer to your question. I don’t think it’s possible to have it all. And I don’t think many of us regret having our children, or any of the time spent with them. However, many of us also have needs too…that are filled by being employed in a satisfying career, being academically challenged, intellectually stimulated and stressed…and it’s not fair to ourselves to deny those needs. IMO, we do ourselves a disservice if we deny essential parts of who we are, even if it’s for the greater good of our children. If we do our jobs well as parents, we will raise our children to be responsible, happy, independent people…who will leave us to find their own way. What then??

I don’t mean to sound like we all need to be self-centred creatures who ignore our children for our own greater glory. But I do worry about women who clearly have needs that go beyond raising children who leave those needs unmet (myself included). So, I don’t know if that means (for you) to stay home FT, or go back to school for medicine, PA, or PhD or anything else. And no matter which you choose, something will be sacrificed…whether it’s your own soul or your children’s needs.

In terms of balance, I think that is something very elusive that everyone chases. I don’t think true balance exists, or if it does, it certainly is not a static thing. Obviously it will be different for every family…but how does one tell if they are in balance or not? Does it mean everything is in balance if Mom can give her all at school and never miss a soccer game or a scraped knee? Does balance mean that sometimes dinner is late, and it’s takeout, and a neighbour takes you child to practice instead of Mom, because she’s studying/working late/sick/doesn’t feel like it? Who decides? I think our definitions of “balance” need to be very flexible.

I don’t know if this helps or if y’all think I’m a blithering idiot…

Wow…I’m just blown away by the responses. I found something powerful in everything that you guys said.

Mary, I know where you are coming from with not regretting being a sahm…and…with certain things happening in your life that may or may not have altered the path. Perhaps I really do need to sit down and consider where my identity rests and relook at my own center. I was at peace for many years with my decision not to pursue med school…I didn’t look back for years.

Being married to someone whose daily life involves practicing what I had always seen myself doing is sometimes a painful reminder that I didn’t choose that path. I find that all of our acquaintances or friends are colleauges of his and almost all of them have spuoses who are…physicians too. I am pretty much the only sahm wife of the bunch…though I am educated and of course have had professional experience in several different areas. Often, when we get-together/talk I am being urged to “go to med school” or do this or that…and it does lead to feelings of inadequacy and inferiority.

Also, my own brush with lymphoma last year and all of the emotional/physical issues that I have faced since then has given me this feeling of a renewed purpose…a desire to reach out beyond the diapers, laundry and everyday to other people who are frightened, hurting and frustrated…by their health issues.

  • Quote:
I *think* the question being asked here is, "Can you be satisfied with your life if you do not achieve a particular goal?" My answer to that is not just a resounding YES, but I would submit that no one should set a *particular* goal as the criterion for having a successful, happy or satisfying life- unless the goal is "to have a successful, happy and satisfying life," I guess. Your life should be good because of what you do each day and who you do it with. Obviously you should have goals. But goals that sacrifice people are pretty small in my eyes.

I this...and I think I'm going to print it out and hold onto it! Thank you.


I really do think that I need to hear that med school isn't the "you can do it" fest that some people have told me that it is....because I end up talking myself into believing that I can drive 1.5 hours each way, study every night and weekend, excel, take care of my's all know the drill. All-consuming is huge....especially considering...well...right now, I am pretty much all-consumed with my children's pre-teen dramas, with the day-to-day happenings with the younger ones..with caring for an infant.

I do need to look at other options for myself and finally let med school as a dream for me go...once and for all..I know that...realistically...rationally...I know. My heart is just slow to catch up.

It's hard to explain why this has had such a hold on me for so long, and yet...I know that most people here do understand....I spent years taking classes, getting a graduate degree, doing research, teaching and taking extra classes...everything I did in my life was geared to eventually sitting in front of an adcom at an interview to say "pick me"....It wasn't wasted time...but...I spent years in the pursuit of something that ultimately doesn't fit for me anymore.


What you said resonates with me as well.

Balance. Therein lies the big question.

Does it matter if dinner is late? Not really...we can't count on our dinner hour right now with dh's schedule.

There are only 24 hours in a day...and only so many neurons in my little pea brain The real main sticking point of my issue regardless of professional choice is...balance. I have a tough time with that and it is a reason that I have had to even step out of the part-time workforce as a mom. If I'm in the lab...then I might be home after school with my kids, but I'm compulsive enough that once they are in bed, I'm back in the lab for another few hours...I can't help myself. When I was teaching part-time, I couldn't stop at that..I rewrote our school's bio 101 lab manual, organized the biology *closet*, met with students twice a semester to discuss the class and their career goals, etc....I am...compulsive in this regard...

DH and I have had multiple discussions now about the option of studying psychology and practicing as a health psychologist. It sounds like a great option for me. Nearby, we *only* have an MS program in behavioral analysis. It's not a terrible program, but where does my mind go?

"MS? I'm not getting another one of those...If I go that route, I want to get a PhD or a PsyD..." Then I research our local (ha...1.5 hours away) PsyD program and discover that they have difficulty placing graduates for the 1 year internship..and I balk...I start looking at PhD programs across the country, postdoctoral fellowships...yadayadayada..and then I end up angry that we have come to rest post-training someplace that has such limited opportunities for me professionally.

Balance. It's sorely missing in my life and I think I really have to work on it.

Balance would be...applying for and doing well in the MS program.....being able to work with people locally and accepting that I'm not going to get a PhD or do a harvard post-doc right now.

It is important to me though to have something outside of the home as well as being a mom. The biggest challenge that I face right now is an awesome loneliness. Most of the moms I know (at least 85%) work outside of the home either part-time or full-time. We get together on the rare Sat. when they have time or see each other at the evening kid activities.

My days are myself...and though I love and embrace motherhood, I am also quite bored and lonely.

Thank you for listening to me talk this through with myself and for your wonderful insights. Forgive my ramble....


Glad you’re getting the responses you wanted.

I hear ya…at least in a certain sense. My thought is to recommend PA as an alternative for medical school. While I’m on the PA forum daily and almost daily am challenging the reasons why people choose PA however I think for you it would be a good fit. While not a physician it would allow you to practice medicine and give you more lateral mobility to go into other areas of medicine. This would allow you to work close to home in a specialty that perhaps you wouldn’t otherwise but decide to do so simply because of your family.

So if medicine is still where you’re heart lies then PA would be a good alternative. I don’t believe anyone can have it all. My friend disagrees with me. He and his wife had 2 kids during medical school and he claims how complete his life is and how he’s managing to have it all…however if you ask his wife you get the reality of the situation.