Diaper Doctor: A Guide to Surviving Parenthood During Medical School
Juggling Anki cards and nappies can be tough, but it's not impossible. A final year med student offers the ultimate med school parent survival guide.
Cramming for final exams with a newborn
It was around 3 am when our light dozing was interrupted by yet another loud chorus of crying with a painful symphony of gasps. “Is she not feeding enough? How much colostrum should we be giving her?” As the night prolonged with relentless tears, my wife and I looked at each other with horrified eyes: "Is this going to be our lives for the next several...months...years?!”
But deep down, anxious thoughts began to stir up a quiet storm in my mind, how will I pass my final exams six weeks away? A day went by and the same night replayed itself. Out of hopeless desperation, I curled up in the corner next to my daughter's cot and crammed whatever Anki cards I could into my sleep-deprived brain. It’s safe to say that bringing our little bundle of joy home changed my life, completely.
Five Months Later…
Fast forward five months I am back on clinical placement in my final year of medical school with a wife training full-time in geriatric medicine and a healthy and happy bub. I have gained a serious dad bod and surprisingly manage to get enough sleep to stay awake during ward rounds. Looking back, I sometimes wonder how I got this far and survived the most challenging year in medical school with a newborn and a pandemic. What I did get out of it though is a working guide on how to juggle fatherhood and medical school without losing your sanity.
Support is Everything
The main rope that holds everything together is you and your partner’s teamwork. Whether it's adjusting sleeping patterns, changing and feeding bub, dropping off and picking her up from daycare, once you define your roles and share in those responsibilities, life becomes manageable. If you have family members, parents or even grandparents who offer to help out, it's a bonus. For example, last year my wife’s father flew in from interstate and stayed with us to help out with cooking and buying groceries for two months straight, which made it a lot easier to focus on preparing for final exams. Mad props to the grandpops! Additionally, putting your child in an excellent day care centre can save you lots of time to study and attend placement, which is simultaneously beneficial for their development. It’s a major win-win! There are substantial government subsidies for childcare, especially if you’re on a low income.
Self-Care vs Baby Care
Pre-baby, I had the image of Vin Diesel from the movie Pacifier as my ideal on what fatherhood would look like, but I ended up gaining 12 kilos instead (pretty sure it ain't muscle). Once you realise that this tiny fragile human is completely dependent on you to be fed, clothed, and bathed, suddenly someone other than yourself has a much higher priority. One cannot simply sleep unless baby sleeps or eat unless she is suckled, or rest unless she is settled. Thus, it is absolutely essential not to forget yourself as you look after your 'mini-me'. This is where defining your roles with your partner and giving each other breaks becomes crucial. Although my F45 training, intermittent fasting and low carb diet days took a massive plunge, I still make an effort to stay active and prioritise quality family time such as taking regular walks at the park or at the beach, especially during the weekends.
Make sure to tag team with your partner so you both don't get burned out. You'll need that extra energy to make way for studying!
As you work through your differential list, you'll start to realise the importance of developing creative ways to be present as a parent but also get some solid studying at the same time. During Zoom tutorials, I would use my wife’s breastfeeding pillow to hold bub and gently bounce on an exercise ball to keep her asleep. In the lead up to my final exams, I made sure the mornings were free for study time and also create an opportunity for my wife to catch up on sleep. I would hold my daughter in a baby carrier and pace the living room, actively recalling high-yield notes and revising flashcards. I'd often explain things to her as she drifted off snoring, hoping that she’d absorb some of that knowledge to get her into selective schools down the track.
I would hold my daughter in a baby carrier and pace the living room, actively recalling high-yield notes and revising flashcards. I'd often explain things to her as she drifted off snoring... - Rami Dawood
So you're holding bub on one hand like a footie pro and feeding her some freshly expressed breastmilk (or formula). You resort to the fact that your nipples are useless, but still want to be a supportive partner by helping out with the feeds. But then you immediately notice your baby is feeding A LOT more than usual. This is what is called 'cluster feeding' and occurs typically during growth spurts. Just like your little feisty grizzly bear guzzles down the bottle you'll need to also cluster study:
- Simplify your second brain
As a parent in medical school, you have very limited time to ‘take notes’. No need to rehash what has already been done for you. Whether it is Amboss, Osmosis or notes from previous students, collate them in all in one place using a reliable note-taking app (Notion, Evernote, OneNote to mention a few). But stick to one! This is an area where you want to spend the least time so you can make way for actual studying.
- Rehearse / recall what you learn
Given that you don’t have a whole lot of time, this is where your money is. There’s an arsenal of recall tools such as Anki or Quizlet that medical students are familiar with. Rely on pre-made decks or make your own flashcards if you have the time. Quick capture notes and slides into your deck using the screenshot tool and then test your ability to recall that knowledge by explaining it in a simple manner to your child (also known as the Feynman technique). The advantage of flashcards is that you can go through it anywhere, any time and almost hands-free as you wrap bub around your body with a baby sling.
- Maintain a regular study group
It cannot be stressed enough how life-saving having a study group is. This is probably the number one resource that will keep you sane throughout your exam preparation. Studying in a group makes it a lot more engaging, efficient and fun as you go through past papers together, practice OSCEs on each other and share notes. And it can all be done in the comfort of your home over Zoom so you don’t miss out on parent-child bonding.
The Brighter Side
Becoming a parent during medical school has its challenges, but it can also be the greatest gift. Despite the fact that studying obstetrics and paediatrics bombards you with everything that could possibly go wrong during your partner's pregnancy and beyond...there is a brighter side. Seeing multiple women give birth can make you a lot more confident in supporting your partner during her own pregnancy and delivery. The neonatal ward literally becomes a free antenatal class and an opportunity to get your hands dirty and learn how to change a nappy and swaddle with poise. Once your child is born and you experience the euphoria of stepping into the special club of parenthood, you realise that you are equipped with knowledge - greater than the average person - regarding your child’s development. As you help them achieve their milestones and be there for them in every step along the way, they, in turn, will grow up to be proud of the sacrifices you’ve made and look up to you as their role-model.
Resources & Recommended Readings
- 'The New Contented Little Baby Book' by Gina Ford
- 'The Whole Brain Child' by Daniel H. Seigel and Tina Payne Bryson
- 'The Conscious Parent' by Shefali Tsabary
- 'Diaper Dude' by Chris Pegula and Frank Meyer
- 'Raising a Secure Child' by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper and Bert Powell
- Raising Children: The Australian Parenting Website: https://raisingchildren.net.au/
- Australian Breastfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/
- Kelly Mom: https://kellymom.com/
- Child Care Subsidy https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/services/centrelink/child-care-subsidy/how-much-you-can-get/your-income-can-affect-it
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