Single Mommy in Medicine - My Story

I hope this submission serves as an inspiration to you... I am a third year medical student at Stanford University School of Medicine. I am also the single mother of a six year old son, Jonathan. I actually was a teen mother (I am now twenty-three) and dreamed of becoming a physician, but was told I might not be able to do so with a child. I have surpassed everyone's expectations for me and have made a name for both myself and my son here.

Balancing my professional aspirations with my commitments as a mother is often quite challenging, but ultimately rewarding in that I have such a sense of accomplishment as new challenges are presented and eventually managed. Currently, I am involved in two research projects related to women's health, I travel to attend conferences and meetings (some of which I have brought Jonathan with me), I am a teaching assistant for two classes, I volunteer at my son's school, I read to my son and interact with his friends.

I am often asked, "How do I do it?" I hope to provide some practical ways of being successful as a parent and a student.

*Realize that as a mother, you are not alone. Use the resources available to you. I often "swap" babysitting with other graduate students/medical students with children. This saves money and Jonathan has an "instant friend" to play with. I also enlist the help of my colleagues. Most are excited about watching Jonathan for an hour or two to give me a break and brush up on their skills and abilities to interact with kids.

*Get a nanny. Okay, lots of people laughed at me on this one. "But how do you afford one?" Well, I don't. I found a young man who was interested in finding a place to stay and liked kids. After interviewing him and doing a background check, I hired him. He helps out with Jonathan about 15 hours a week and in exchange, gets free rent. He takes Jon to school, sometimes picks him up, takes him to baseball games, etc. He is truly a lifesaver.

*Apply for every scholarship and low/no interest loan available. Let others know of your concerns and challenges. They just might want to help! I have professors that were so inspired by my story that they offered to help me pay for Jon's child care. One of my professors took Jon to Disneyland with his family. When people see you working hard, they want to support that. In turn, you can help out other young moms coming up. Also, the YWCA has great scholarships. Jonathan has been in swim lessons, day camps, child care through the Y, all for low, low cost.

*Encourage your child to play his or her part. Jonathan has chores. He likes to help out because it is so ingrained. A kid can load the dishwasher, get the dustpan to help you sweep, use a dustbuster to vacuum, etc. Positive feedback and encouragement work wonders! And, it increases self esteem and confidence.

*Find strength in community. I am African-American woman and enjoy attending a local black church. They have sent me care packages, passed around a collection plate for my little family, and offered to baby-sit. My pastor took Jonathan to a movie so I could have time to myself. Nurture your spirituality and/or cultural side. You can even choose to "give back" by organizing a health faire for your church and/or connecting the members to community health resources.

*Give your child a bedtime. So important, but many parents do not do it and hold to it. Jonathan goes to bed at 8pm each night (he knows 7:30 bath, 7:45 bedtime story, 8pm bed). Kids appreciate the structure (Jon proudly exclaims "My bedtime is 8 o clock!") and they wake up amazingly well in the morning. Jon is up and at 'em at 6am--no more blasting the radio or shouting "Wake up sleepyhead!" ;)

*Take some time for you! Did I mention that I am also part of a salsa dance group called the Arrythmias? Time away makes me a better mommy--more refreshed and more energy to do things with Jonathan.

I hope this is helpful. It is very do-able! If anyone would like info on how I made it through high school, college, and my pre-clinical years of med school, please email me. Or, if you have suggestions, I'd like that too!

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