For many of us, medicine is a calling. We sincerely hope that at this point in your training your career choice feels like the right one. Ideally, you are fulfilled doing what you love and not resentful of the time spent away from home and family. Historically, most women physicians choose their specialty and begin residency training before starting a family (Klebanoff, 1991). They may not have thought in detail about future personal-professional balance when choosing a specialty. For some, a career choice made many years ago might not mesh well with the current logistics of motherhood.
There are shift-based jobs in medicine with no after-hours work required. Some specialties have quite predictable hours and might suit a physician-mother’s needs perfectly. There are medical students who are interested in the pace and case load of emergency medicine, and choose it as the best means to create a fulfilled personal and professional life. But many more women are drawn to specialties that require significant overnight and weekend responsibilities, some of which are quite unpredictable, such as obstetrics.
The impact that those evening and weekend responsibilities have on you and your family depends entirely on the specific responsibilities involved. For example, critical care physicians and anesthesiologists have predictable shift-oriented schedules. But when they are working overnight in the hospital, they are completely separated from their families. In contrast, many primary care physicians cover off-hours phone calls for clinical practices. Depending on the volume of calls, they may be able to answer occasional pages from the beach with the kids or they may be so tied to the phone that it would be dangerous for them to be supervising young children. Some physicians like to separate work and family and others prefer to combine them. Sometimes the specialty dictates that choice.