Career Change: Physician to Stay-at-Home Mom
Disclaimer from the editor: This post is a follow-up to the previous post on my wife switching from being a full-time physician to being a full-time stay-at-home mom. See the original post here. This post is written by her, from her perspective. The post generated a lot of controversy when it was featured on the popular Physician on Fire blog. You can see from the comments in that post that people had very strong opinions about it. See that post here.
Please understand that the purpose of the original post was to be an article encouraging people that getting out of debt early in your lives facilitates choices and limits financial constraints. It wasn’t meant to be a treatise on working vs non-working spouses. I firmly believe that each family’s choice on which spouse (or both) will be working full-time is up to each family and no one else. No one should guilt or shame another family for choosing something different from them. This article and the original post are our story, but that’s not the right story for everyone. Enjoy!
I had always planned to be a working mom…a full-time physician mom at that.
I grew up in a family of physicians—my father a nephrologist, my mom an OB-GYN, my stepfather a family practitioner. My parents struck the amazing balance of working full-time in medicine and still being incredibly involved in the lives of my siblings and I, so it never even occurred to me to be a stay-at-home mom.
It was a blessing that, while I had many physicians in my family, no one pushed me to enter the medical field. I was drawn to the patient relationships, the problem-solving, and the potential to touch lives that a career as a physician offers.
I met my now-husband in medical school. He was a year ahead of me, and I fell head-over-heels so soon after first meeting him that it could have been the plot of a cheesy romantic comedy.
Our wedding was only 10 months after meeting, and it was such a blessing to have my best friend struggling and striving along beside me during medical school and residency. Medicine was much more fun for me as a career since we got to do it together. We enjoyed discussing cases, attending conferences together, and the camaraderie that came from an in-depth understanding of the emotional ups and downs that we both faced each day.
A Change of Plans
I am sure we ended up fueling each other’s passion for gastroenterology, as we both decided to pursue fellowships in this field—Brent as an adult gastroenterologist, and myself as a pediatric gastroenterologist. To this day, I still wonder if we would both have found our loves for this subspecialty without the excitement of the other.
We dreamed of having children from early in our marriage, but we decided to wait to expand our family until we were nearing the end of our training. Our oldest son, Grant, was born half-way through my second year of (a 3 year) fellowship, which was the final year of Brent’s fellowship.
As I am sure is true for almost all parents, my whole world changed when I had a child. Like many moms from all career paths, whether working at home or outside the home, the priorities in my life outside of God and my family instantly shifted with the arrival of this tiny human. For the first time in my life, I began dreaming of life as a stay-at-home mom.
A Shift in Mindset
Once I returned to work after maternity leave, I also noticed that all day I was eager to return to my husband and new son. However, when I was at home, my exhaustion prevented me from devoting as much time and energy toward them as I wanted.
My husband seemed to arrive home from work with boundless energy and was constantly searching for new endeavors (hence his desire to start a website for financial and practice management advice for physicians!). On the other hand, I found that I was giving the best of myself to my work, rather than my family.
I felt as if I expended most of my patience, understanding, kindness, energy, and commitment at work, and would arrive home frazzled and short with my family, the ones I care about the most.
I was in awe of people like my husband and sister-in-law, who appeared to thrive as working parents, as their mental stimulation, adult conversations, work responsibilities, and accomplishments outside of the home actually seemed to energize them and allow them to more fully enjoy their family time.
For me, just the opposite was true. I loved my work, but my physician role was compromising my role as a mom.
Making a tough call
With these considerations, I made the decision that I would stop working as a physician after fellowship, at least for the years while my children were young and our family was being moved around the country at the whim of the military.
But the timeline of the decision actually advanced sooner than anticipated, as my husband got orders to serve on the other side of the country after finishing his fellowship (while I still had 1 year left in my own).
I knew I could always serve as a general pediatrician if I decided to go back to work as a physician, but I would not be able to work as a pediatric gastroenterologist without completing the fellowship. After a lot of prayer and discussions with trusted family, friends, and colleagues, I decided to walk away from fellowship.
At that time, I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and for me, the unlikely possibility of returning to work as a sub-specialist was not enough, in my mind, to justify separating our family for my final year of fellowship.
My husband’s support
The most incredible part of my decision was my husband’s complete and unwavering support along the way. He had certainly not imagined when we married that I would decide to quit working outside the home, as I had not anticipated that desire myself.
But, throughout our conversations, I could see his commitment to making my goals possible, even though our family’s lifestyle and income significantly changed when I left fellowship to solely work as a mother.
Fortunately, we had made wise financial decisions in the preceding years. By getting rid of all of our debts and living on one income while saving the second, I could afford to stop working without compromising our family’s financial security.
We have since maintained my medical license so that I may go back to work should I ever desire to do so. We also maintain adequate life insurance and disability insurance so that in the event something should happen to Brent or myself, our family will still have financial security.
It has been such a blessing to have had the opportunity that many women don’t have. I was neither forced to work outside of the home for financial reasons, nor was I forced to be a stay-at-home mom due to limited career options.
For that reason, I find so much joy in my day-to-day activities, even the menial details of sweeping Cheerios and packing lunches, as I recognize this is right where I have chosen to be. I have never regretted the decision to step away from a career in medicine.
My husband is incredibly supportive of me and our family. I am blessed beyond measure. It’s such a joy 13 years later to still be married to your best friend.
To all the physician moms out there, whether you are working full-time, part-time, or not pursuing a career at all, I respect you and your decision. I know you’re supporting your family in the way that’s best for you. Everyone’s choice is different, and I hope you’re as happy as I am in whatever path you’ve chosen.
Dr. Catherine Lacey is a board-certified pediatrician who is currently working as a stay-at-home mom. Besides spending time with her children and husband, she also supports her husband’s website/blog, www.TheScopeOfPractice.com, where physicians and dentists can go to learn to manage their businesses successfully and master their personal finances.