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Having a Baby During Residency: Lost Year or Found Opportunity?


At a recent academy meeting a young woman, whom I did not previously know, collared me and told me she needed advice.

“I really want to do a fellowship, but because I had my baby last year, just when everyone else was applying and interviewing, I missed out on the deadlines.  I feel stuck.  I guess I will just go into practice.” (With the silent lament, “And give up the dream of what I really want to do.”)

True story.  And not an uncommon story.  Women physicians need to make a different set of choices than to their male colleagues.  And these choices are not bad ones. What is bad about having a baby?  What is bad about finishing a residency?  What is bad about having a year to do something you never planned you would do? Nothing at all.

What is bad is not following your dreams.  So when faced with the dilemma this young woman presented, two of us, more experienced, mother-specialist-entrepreneurial type women docs sat down with her.  We started to do some myth busting and brainstorming.

Here is how the conversation went.

Mythbusting:  “Just because you missed out that year, doesn’t mean you can’t apply this year.  There is no one straight, correct path to getting where you think you want to go.”

“But what do I do for that gap year?”

Brainstorming for Solutions:  Here are eight really good ideas the three of us came up with and want to share with you.  Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, so we invite you to add your own ideas (comments section) of what you might do or what you did in a similar situation.

  1. Locum tenens–Live in a densely populated area or are not averse to doing a bit of traveling (we know this is hard with a young infant)?  Provide temporary coverage for physicians who need to get away or have to deal with their own health.  There are agencies that help with this.  You get experience; they get some help.  You will see how different practices are run and learn what and what not to do.
  2. Check out Academia–Look for a junior faculty job where they might be needing extra help but do not want to commit to a permanent, full-time hire.  Check with your present training program.  Look to fill in where other programs are having people go on leave due to military or other obligations and need a hand.  If you don’t ask, you won’t know.  Many of these are not advertised.
  3. Research–When you are applying or eventually get into a fellowship program, see if there is a research opportunity for you in the year before your fellowship. There may be something in a related discipline.  Try applying for a grant through one of your specialty societies or other venues and do a project that interests you and will help you to further your career.
  4. Pursue More Education–Get another degree.  Something related to medicine such as an MPH, MBA, masters in hospital administration, medical ethics or any of a number of areas that might help you in your future, or might just be something you missed in your younger years pursuing medicine but really want to do.
  5. Seek Temporary Employment–Work in a hospital setting or some other group setting in which you are a paid employee.  More hospitals are trying to find full time physicians to work.  This is a good way for you to start your career.  You might consider asking up front for a “sabbatical for fellowship year” and guarantee return, if it is a place that you like and fit in after the “trial balloon.”
  6. Get a head start–take time to study and pass the boards.  Start reading and thinking about your new specialty.
  7. Potpourri–study for boards, try a medical mission, join your medical specialty society, become active politically or gain other skills such as writing or speaking.  You might want to take a year and enjoy the baby, get into shape, run a marathon, take a trip, learn about alternative medicine in your field.
  8. Keep in touch–make sure you keep in touch with the programs to which you want to apply.  Maybe a spot will open up for when you graduate.  You never know when this will be happen. Lives change, so be ready to jump in, just in case.

We told her,

“A “lost” year is never lost.  It’s an opportunity to do many things.  Be creative and open minded.  You will be surprised at how many things will open up to you that you never considered before.  And how your life might change for the better.”


And at the end of our conversation, this now-chief resident went off to make her applications for what she really wanted to spend the rest of her career doing.  Having a gap year can be a wonderful experience.  It is an opportunity to have new experiences and increase your skills.  She has had her baby, and she can have the career she wants, too.

One Note

  1. No problem admitting that having a baby cost me at least a year, but I am glad that my life took priority over my job. I wrote 4 abstract in the 6 weeks that i took off for maternity leave and enjoyed time away from clinical practice and my beautiful newborn at the same time.


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