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Stanford University School of Medicine

Amplifying the physician-mother voice

Balancing work and family life is something parents constantly strive to achieve. But for mothers who are also physicians, attaining work-life balance often involves overcoming steep challenges, such as finding the time and space to pump while breastfeeding, or managing the demands of on-call schedules while also managing the demands of their children's schedules.

In an effort to develop a community where physician-mothers can discuss their parenting and career struggles and offer advice to one another, Katherine Chretien, MD, an internist in Washington, D.C. and mother of three, launched the blog Mothers in Medicine five years ago. Over the years, the blog has grown in popularity, and the number and types of contributors have increased. Below Chretien discusses how the community has evolved, what feedback she's received from readers, and how she finds time to dedicate to writing.

What motivated you to launch Mothers in Medicine?

I was already blogging on a personal blog as well as on a group blog of local mothers in 2008. I saw that blogs could create a rich online community of support and had a new appreciation for the power of sharing stories. Meanwhile, an essay I wrote on juggling pumping while working as an internist was published in a medical journal and received a wonderful response. Many readers, both men and women, wrote to me saying that they wished more people shared these kinds of stories of women in medicine – that it was important and necessary. Something clicked.

Mothers in Medicine is comprised of a nearly 20 different contributors ranging from pre-med student to neurosurgeon. How did this unique group come together?

Initially, I reached out to some established physician-mom bloggers to see if they might be interested in contributing to a new group blog I was establishing: Mothers in Medicine. I knew I was on to something when they answered with an almost immediate and enthusiastic, “Yes!” Other contributors found us by hearing about the blog, reading and submitting guest posts. There’s a steady inflow of new writers and those who leave the blog to prioritize other parts of their lives. This is understandable and expected given who we are and what we do. Some contributors have been writing and with us since day 1, which was five years ago.

How has the blog evolved over the years? What trends related to physician-mothers’ concerns have you noted?

In terms of contributors, we’ve added more writers in different stages of training, more resident and student voices represented. Also, as we’ve gained readership, we are now receiving much more mail asking for advice. This has translated into more of those reader-generated posts on the blog. Physician-mothers’ concerns have generally remained the same: how to balance work and family; timing of having kids; childcare; maternity leave; caring for ourselves; career paths.

Can you share some of the feedback you have received from readers?

The feedback I’ve received from readers has sometimes floored me. Women write in to say how they survived residency because of reading the blog, that it inspired them to go into medicine, or that they finally feel less alone. One woman wrote in to say that she had been reading for years and just found out that she was pregnant; she was thrilled to finally “belong.” I wrote back to say, “You’ve always belonged.” Hearing this kind of feedback makes it all worth it.

As an internist, clinician-educator and mother to three, how do you carve out time to dedicate to the blog?

We carve out time to do what matters most to us. Things certainly get busy with family life, having three children ages 8 and under, and a full work schedule. Yet, I know how much the blog has been a support to women physicians and those who aspire to be. I honestly feel that it's part of the service I do for the greater community. It took more time in the beginning to nurture it and help it take off. Now, it doesn’t take as much to maintain it and keep it thriving.

Previously: Reflections on being a med-student mom, Chipping away at stereotypes about older women and science, one story at a time, One physician’s take on the lack of female doctors in leadership roles, What’s holding women in the sciences back?, Assuming “doctor” means “man”Addressing women leadership issues at the medical school and Advancing the careers of women in academic medicine
Photo by Pete

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