By Jamie Johnson, WCI Contributor

If you’re getting ready to start medical school or residency, it may not seem like the ideal time to also start a family. But many parents do just that, and according to one survey, roughly 40% of residents planned to have children during their residency. Having a baby in medical school or residency is difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Here's what you'll want to consider, especially thinking about how you’ll manage your schoolwork, finances, and schedule.


How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Child?

Everyone knows that kids are expensive, but have you ever wondered exactly how much it costs to raise a child? In the US, it now costs an average of $310,000 to raise a child from birth to age 17.

For many Americans, raising children is a rewarding experience, but it is going to cost you. And many of these costs are out of your control since the US doesn’t prioritize paying for childcare or maternity leave, like other countries. Going into a possible pregnancy in medical school or residency, where you're probably going to make somewhere in the $60,000 range per year, you need to make sure you have a strong financial plan.


Challenges of New Parents in Medical School or Residency

There is no perfect time to start having kids, but medical students and residents face bigger challenges than most. If you have kids before or during medical school, this can delay your career. If you have a baby as a resident, you’ll likely receive paid parental leave, but those 6-12 weeks go by quickly.

Caring for a newborn while managing 80-hour work weeks during your residency isn’t ideal. Your sleep patterns will be affected for significant periods of time, potentially leading to exhaustion and burnout. And the majority of this burden falls on women—during the pregnancy and after the child is born. Though there’s more equity in relationships now, women are still 50% more likely to care for children throughout the day.

More information here:

How to Prepare for Maternity and How It Could Affect Your Family’s Finances


4 Things to Consider Before Having Kids in Medical School or Residency

Despite the many challenges, many people manage to successfully attend medical school or begin residency while starting families at the same time. It isn’t easy, but it is doable. You don’t have to wait until you’re an attending to start a family. Here are four things to consider first.


Getting the Timing Right

If you plan on having children during medical school, it’s important to think about whether you can do that and still graduate in four years. If you can graduate in four years, you’ll save a lot of money on tuition. Plus, you’ll be able to finish school with your peers. But you will have a heavier workload and you won’t get to take as much time off to spend with your baby. So, if necessary, you could possibly extend your training by a year—either before or after graduation.

The Rhode Island Medical Journal recommends trying to have children during the late spring or early summer at the end of your first year of medical school. The fourth year of medical school can also be a good time, though you’ll have to plan for residency interviews. The third year of medical school and the intern year of residency may be the worst times to try to have a baby, particularly for women doctors (see “The Elephants in the Room” section below).


Managing Your Finances

There’s no getting around it—having children and becoming a physician are two of the most expensive things you can do. The average cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 is more than $300,000, and you may end up paying even more depending on where you live, the quality of your health insurance, and whether you have to pay for things like in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Medical school is also quite expensive, and the average medical student graduates with around $207,000 in student loan debt. The exact cost of medical school may be higher if you’re attending school out-of-state or are attending a private university.

Taking time off to have kids during medical school or residency comes with financial consequences. Your money will be tight during medical school and residency, so it’s important to maintain a budget and to look for cost-saving opportunities wherever possible. Childcare is one of the biggest expenses parents face, so you may want to look for a program that offers on-site or subsidized childcare.


Managing Your Schedule

Medical school and residency are demanding, so it’s important to find a system that allows you to prioritize your career and family. If you have a spouse or family member who can help with childcare, this will allow for more flexibility in your schedule.

Try to cut out any idle time during your day so you can get as much done at school and work as possible. This will allow you to prioritize parenting and home life when you leave.

starting a family medical school residency


Finding the Right Program

Finally, if you know you’re going to have kids during medical school or residency, you want to look for a family-friendly program. According to one survey, nearly 36% of women report experiencing maternal discrimination in the workforce.

Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate based on your child-rearing plans, but that doesn’t mean these practices don’t still happen. Look for a program that’s family-friendly and won’t hold your desire to have kids against you.

More information here:

Children – My Luxury Items


2 Elephants in the Room

Any article about medical residents having kids needs to discuss two important issues. The first is that men and women are biologically different. While it is entirely possible for children to be 100% bottle-fed (whether with formula or pumped breast milk) by their father, that is rarely the chosen solution. Plus, men did not carry a child for nine months and undergo a vaginal delivery or, in some cases, a major surgery to have a baby. It is completely different to be a male resident married to a stay-at-home mom who has a baby and to be a female resident who has a baby. The first might take a few days of paternity leave and then get back to the grind. The other probably NEEDS 12 weeks off.

The second factor is what to do with someone who takes extended parental leave. A medical residency is a blend of education and work. Missing three-plus months of it means you have neither received the same education nor put in the same amount of work. Should your graduation now be delayed by three months? Would you want it to be delayed? For a student, perhaps a rotation can be moved into what was going to be elective or vacation time to provide an equivalent education without losing a year.

Both of these issues will be addressed by new parents and their programs, and the best solutions are likely individualized.


The Bottom Line

Having a child as a medical student or resident isn’t easy, but it can be done. You’ll have to make a number of sacrifices and learn to be flexible. But with the right planning and support, you don’t have to put your plans to start a family on hold for your career.

Take some time to consider your career goals, the timing, and how you'll handle it if something goes wrong. And consider how you’ll manage the financial responsibility of paying for school while starting a family.

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