Monday, June 13, 2011

tripping to the light linktastic

First off, you guys knew there was virtually no way that I couldn't respond to this Op-Ed in The New York Times from this weekend right?  In case you hadn't read it, a quick excerpt to whet your appetite:

Students who aspire to go to medical school should think about the consequences if they decide to work part time or leave clinical medicine. It’s fair to ask them — women especially — to consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency. They must understand that medical education is a privilege, not an entitlement, and it confers a real moral obligation to serve.

I recently spoke with a college student who asked me if anesthesiology is a good field for women. She didn’t want to hear that my days are unpredictable because serious operations can take a long time and emergency surgery often needs to be done at night. What she really wanted to know was if my working life was consistent with her rosy vision of limited work hours and raising children. I doubt that she welcomed my parting advice: If you want to be a doctor, be a doctor.

(Italics and bold face I added for emphasis, but the words of the actual article are reproduced verbatim.)  So! Thoughts? I had a few. And I posted them here. I hope this doesn't count as some sort of cop-out substitute for an entry, but as both article probably highlight, the role of a physician parent is fairly busy, and there's only so much time in the day for writing, as much as I might love to do it.

For those somewhat less interested in the issue of out-of-home-working parenthood, here is a video from this weekend. As you can see, Cal went from being somewhat nervous in the water to staging his own underwater Cirque du Soleil.

And finally, remember to check out the awesome JetPens and book giveway in my guerilla marketing contest! Don't stress, your entry doesn't have to be anything XXX-treme, it could be as simple as starting a Twitter word-of-mouth campaign or sharing a link to the book on your Facebook page! Just e-mail me with a link to your entry to officially enter the contest! (This is just so I can keep track of everyone.) They're really good pens, guys. And it's a pretty decent book too, on an issue--the balance of medicine and parenthood--that clearly needs to be shared and discussed.

That about sums it up.  Hope you had a good Monday!


  1. Anonymous7:35 PM

    I agree 100% with what you wrote, and just wish I could write as eloquently as you!

    Sometimes I feel like the NYT posts inflammatory op-eds to increase traffic, and I'm hoping that's what happened here. How could a woman in medicine honestly believe what she wrote? On top of that, she happens to be in a specialty where she could afford household help-- if she were a 150K/y internist I wonder if she would be so sure that working full-time was the right answer.

    The feminist revolution was not about forcing women into the workplace at the expense of their families, but rather about giving women the freedom to CHOOSE whichever path they desired.

  2. AHHHHH it always makes me want to tear people's hair out (not my hair, but their hair) when they post inflammatory comments that are basically personal attacks or generalized attacks on specific genders/races/groups/etc. I agree with your article wholeheartedly and admire that you are willing to put yourself out there.

    It often feels like a Catch-22 for women whether they are doctors or engaged in another high-commitment career. On one hand, I've had people tell me they won't trust a female doctor who has kids and had the same people call me silly for my adamant desire NOT to have kids and that "I'll eventually grow up and change my mind." I want to scream "MAKE UP YOUR MIND!" at them. Luckily, I make frequent use of a unique skill called "selective hearing."

  3. Anonymous11:28 PM

    Even for someone who is pretty sure that she doesn't want to have kids, this is a really interesting debate. It's about the gender stereotypes and double standards, but also about the expectation that doctors are at patients' beck and call 24/7. My own mother told me that if I'm going to have kids, I better work part time. I couldn't believe it - seriously? Does she think I slaved through 6 years of training after giving up a corporate job so that I can work part time? (This was before she realized that I may not want kids). And I couldn't help but be baffled and offended when a new patient asked me at the end of her first visit: "Are you married? Do you have kids?" I assure you she wasn't trying to be friendly. If I had answered her questions, I wonder what conclusions she would draw. Would I be a better family doctor if I was married and have kids, or would I be a worse doctor? She then proceeded to ask me if I took care of myself. I'm half her age but she's worried that I'd go and die on her or something. I work full-time - but some people are still upset that I don't work more evenings and on weekends. I bet it's patients like that who then go accuse doctors of being overpaid entitled whiners.
    - Another (Canadian) Michelle

  4. I think the most important comment in your rebuttal is "Men have children, too." The problem, as I see it, is the underlying assumption of the social contract that women are the primary care-giving parent and that the role of the male parent is the provision of material support.

    In male-dominated professions the contrast is the most obvious, but we see this across the board.

  5. Gareth Wilson7:35 AM

    I don't have enough experience with doctors to comment on them, but the situation with scientists and laboratory technicians is interesting. It's very common for a woman with young children to work part-time, and this is aggravating. But the big problem is that the university or research institute never bothers to hire anyone to cover their missing hours. Whatever service they're providing just stops dead for an afternoon, or a Friday. Some of the blame for that has to go on the employer. This isn't exclusive to women - the same thing has happened with at least one father, and there's a parallel situation with men close to retirement taking Fridays off.

  6. Anonymous8:54 AM

    Love your rebuttal piece- I was wondering if anyone knew where on the NY Times website there is a place for people to comment on the original OpEd? For the life of me I cannot find a comments section. Thanks in advance!!

  7. Thanks for your response to the Op-Ed. I'm a nontraditional premed with kids and it is nice to know there are successful physician/mothers who disagree with her rather inflammatory viewpoint.

  8. Anonymous1:51 PM

    I hope you wrote a letter to the editor in response to the op-ed. You are a perfect person to be selected for publication.

  9. can an OB surgeon (Like during a c section) where a cloth scrub hat or is that something only anesthesiologists can do?

  10. Anonymous8:52 PM

    I have to say that my female co-residents and I were more than a little upset at reading this article. One aspect that Dr Sibert fails to consider is that maybe some of us agree with her, but there is NO good solution: some of us M.D.s would LIKE to make the choice to only be mothers, but by the time we come to that realization it's too late. In a way I love her suggestion that female medical student applicants be asked whether they are ready to fully commit their lives (and souls, the way she makes it sound) to medicine - I wish someone had laid out a little more clearly to me the exact amount of hours per week in working and studying I'd end up putting in during school and residency and beyond, not to mention the financial strain of trying to start a family with $100,000 in debt and a $50,000 per year resident's salary. But I know that in my case, and that of many, many other female med students and residents I've talked with, the story is this: we're high-achieving, competitive people through high school and college, who decide to pursue an ambitious and respectable career, and it's not until an enormous amount of time and money have been invested that our life priorities start to change (ie. getting married, starting to have kids).

    If I had a time machine to go back to the start of college I'd probably choose a different career path, but since I'm not holding out hope of that becoming a plausible solution there are essentially two options: stick it out in medicine and fit my career into my personal life as well as I can, or bail out of medicine completely (and either way live with the guilt of wasting American tax dollars on my education, apparently). The quitting option isn't realistic for a number of reasons, including the fact that my bachelor's degree is basically useless in and of itself, and going into an entry-level job making $30,000 a year just simply can't support my husband, one (or more) children, a mortgage, and paying off loans. So what do you suggest now, Dr Sibert?

  11. I knew as soon as I read this that you would be addressing it and I was really looking forward to it. Although I have no experience in the medical field, I had the same reaction you did: disappointment that once again, individual women are getting blamed for a societal problem. I have nothing but respect for doctors who want a balanced life. My kids' pediatrician works part-time. I've never considered this woman a lesser doctor because as a mother she made that choice. Just as I would never consider a doctor - male or female - a lesser parent for working full-time.

  12. Don't compromise a priori! It is our very own neuroses that keep this system alive. Do you honestly believe that only a self-sacrifing life of slavery can make a good doctor? If you want both, go for both! Things will have to sort themselves out. This is the only way to change the minds of people - the ones higher up but also ourselves - eventually so everybody can get a little peace.

    You can be a good doctor AND be yourself. Says the surgery resident mom from Europe (less work hours! patients not sicker!)

  13. Anonymous12:55 AM

    To Anonymous who wants to comment on NYT regarding the original op-ed piece - go to the NYT's Motherlode Blog by Lisa Belkin.

  14. Megan9:29 AM

    Thanks for speaking out on this issue. I agree with your take that this is a societal issue rather than one that can be placed squarely on the shoulders of female doctors who also want to have families. It's really easy to blame women leaving the medical profession or going part-time in the midst of a shortage but that's just a symptom, not the cause, of the problem.

    The real problems are that women are expected to take on the vast majority child-rearing responsibilities in our society and that the martyr-ish culture of medicine can make it so either-or for women wanting to have families in the midst of their careers.

    Seriously, WHAT ABOUT male doctors with children? Thank you Dr. Au!

  15. the other issue that bothered me about this, besides the obvious stuff, is how she totally betrays the medical sisterhood. this lady trained back when nobody was there to help her out, and she pissed off that there are enough women now that we can ask for the things we want and be given weight and discussion. just a few thoughts here...

  16. Kristi1:09 PM

    I find it odd that child-rearing is still regarded as a female responsibility. I am a married third year medical student. When people ask me how I am going to handle having kids while being a doctor, I tell the truth: my husband will be a stay-at-home dad. The shocked stares I get are ridiculous. There is a huge stigma against males being the ones to stay home and raise the children. My husband, apparently, is an oddity in that his masculinity is not compromised by his desire to be an excellent father, who assumes the role that I can't. I am more highly educated, will have a better job when I finish, and never had any intention of working less than full-time, so it is more logical that he be the one to stay home. Of course, I would never have told him he had to quit his job, but he wants our child to left with babysitters and daycare as little as possible.

  17. Elisi8:50 PM

    Kristi: actually there is today a stigma against women staying at home. Just ask a stay at home mom. But it's not surprising after the past 50 years of telling women how important it is to have your own career and be self sufficient and independent. Why is it unreasonable to tell men the same thing? I wonder it's so "logical" for a man to stay at home, but never "logical" for a woman? When women stay at home, they're oppressed, their miserable, they're unfulfilled, they have no identity, they're dependent, they wasted their education, etc, etc. But when a man stays home, it's simply "logical."

    I wonder what would be the response if we told all the working women whose husbands have higher earning potential, that it would be more "logical" for them to give up their careers and stay home, also that they wouldn't have to leave their children with babysitters and daycare? How would they respond?

    What is the harm of daycare, in your opinion?

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