Dear Pat Responds to Surgeon-Mother-to-Be

26 May 2018

Dear Pat,

I’m a second-year surgery resident and somewhat older than my co-residents. I am considering getting pregnant during residency, but I am unsure if my co-residents will be supportive. I don’t want them to be mad at me. What should I do?



For this month’s “Dear Pat”, AWS Council Member Dr. Simone Betchen shares her strategies in response to “Surgeon-Mother-to-Be”.

Dear Surgeon-Mother-to-Be,

How exciting! No one can tell you when is the best time to start a family, but since you asked, here’s what I think. The best time to start a family is when the timing is right for YOU and your family. While it is kind of you to think of your co-residents, your co-residents will step up and survive without you during maternity leave because no one is indispensable. And it goes both ways, If any one of them had an issue in future, I’m sure you would be there for them as well.

I have watched my colleagues try to time their pregnancy or adoption to the benefit of their work colleagues, but it usually doesn’t go as planned because pregnancy and adoptions don’t happen on demand. Deciding to wait to have children may lower your chances as you get older and getting pregnant may take longer than you expect. Adoption is also a long process that requires a lot of time, patience and significant involvement. On the flip side, deciding to try to have a child with the idea that it will take a while, didn’t work so well for myself, and I ended up pregnant before I had expected. Whatever scenario you’ve dreamed up for the ideal time to have a child is unlikely to go as planned. Accept that and decide to start your family when you feel it is best for you.

Colleagues that support you will do so whenever you choose to have a family. Colleagues that are less than supportive of you starting a family will be that way no matter your age or stage in your training. These colleagues will not be any more understanding next year, the year after that, the research year, or the chief year. Anyone who is disappointed that you choose to have a child, at what seems like an inopportune time for them, will have to manage his or her own feelings like an adult. Don’t worry about them.

Having children at any stage for a working mother is tricky. Having had children at a couple of points during my training and as attending faculty, I will tell you that the farther along I was in my career, the more difficult it was to have a child. Being pregnant was harder, taking maternity leave was harder, and rebuilding my practice once I got back was harder as my career progressed. While it may not be true for everyone, many women surgeons echo this sentiment.

All this being said, I do recommend you speak to human resources, review your institution’s housestaff manual, or look at your hospital’s policies on maternity leave. This might help you in planning your time off, the resources available to you from your institution, and what you may expect of your family in helping when a child does come along. Be sure to also take a look at the AWS maternity leave policy for residents and surgeons in practice.

Best of luck!

Simone Betchen, MD, FACS

Dr. Betchen is a board-certified neurosurgeon. She currently practices at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and is proud to have served the community there for a decade now. Dr. Betchen received her medical degree from Johns Hopkins Medical School. She did internship and neurosurgery residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. After completing a neurosurgical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center she made the big move south to Brooklyn where she now treats a wide variety of clinical problems in both the brain and spine including tumors, hydrocephalus, chiari malformation, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis. Her research interests are in clinical outcomes and quality of life with neurosurgical treatment. Outside of the hospital she is married with two children.

Dr. Betchen is a member of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Women in Neurosurgery, and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. She serves on the board of the Brooklyn-Long Island Chapter of the ACS. She joined AWS at the time of initiation into the college and is thankful she made that choice. Joining has expanded my circle of successful, strong, and dedicated female surgeons across specialties and has given me a better view as to what great heights are achievable. I am honored to be the membership committee chair and entrusted with building the membership of this wonderful organization.

The Association of Women Surgeons (AWS) is excited to bring to you a resident and fellow focused blog titled, “Dear Pat”. “Dear Pat” answers questions about issues pertinent to surgical residents and fellows, such as navigating through residency, applying to fellowship, family planning, and handling difficult situations on the job. Questions may be submitted by residents and fellows anonymously and will be answered by AWS council members. This monthly blog is published the fourth Sunday of each month. We want to hear from you, if you are interested in submitting your anonymous question, use this link.

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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