|What makes a good doctor? Empathy? Patience? Compassion? Gentleness? Understanding? Authority? Flexibility? Sensitivity? Wisdom?
Now what makes a good mother? All of these?
It’s widely accepted that mothers make good doctors and good mothers make great doctors. Who could have a better bedside manner than a mother? But medicine is almost more difficult to combine with motherhood than any other career. Any woman who wants to be a doctor and a mother is going to have some tough moments of choice. In a pinch which should she put first? Her patients or her children?
Should she even have the choice? From the time that the first women medical students walked into the male teaching Saturday clinic at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia to be met with boos and jeers, many men in the profession have thought, no. Some of the male students at the clinic on that day even threw stones at their female colleagues, acting out the aggressive sexism that has historically dogged women doctors. The irony is as mystifying as the truth is obvious. If mothers are naturally suited to the nurturing world of medicine, why has it been so hard for them to break through?
Dr Margaret French, or Peg as she is known, is an anomaly. She is a practicing doctor, a divorcee and a woman who interrupted her career to stay at home fulltime with her children. There are very, very few Dr French’s out there. It is almost unheard of for a doctor to do what she has done. The push-me-pull-you dynamic of parenting within the medical profession means that there are few mothers who take several years off from these careers and then return. Medicine is a difficult career to leave completely for any length of time. Its advances are so constant and so rapid that your knowledge quickly become out of date. For that reason, state licensing boards generally ask for a certain number hours of continuing education per year, with exams at the end. If you want to combine medicine and motherhood you are more likely to stay and cut back than leave and come back.