CHESTThought Leader BlogLife as a trainee parent during the pandemic

Life as a trainee parent during the pandemic

By: Faiza Khalid, MD

This post is part of our Life as a Fellow blog post series, which features “fellow life lessons” from current trainees in leadership with CHEST.

I remember clearly when I found out that I was pregnant. My husband was completing a 1-year fellowship in San Diego while I was doing my sleep medicine fellowship in Cleveland and had just applied for pulmonary and critical care fellowship. I remember calling him in a mix of excitement and panic; welcome though this news was, I was concerned about maternity leave, petrified to go through the pregnancy alone, and terrified of not being ready to be a parent. I felt better after being able to process everything over the next few days.

I still recall the joy of holding my newborn son and in that moment, all the anxieties of the last few months just faded away. Fortunately, my parents were there to help for a couple of months after the baby arrived, and then my husband moved back after concluding his fellowship. Things were finally getting to normal, when the COVID pandemic started. All the health care systems (including ours) started bracing themselves to accommodate the anticipated influx of patients that would need ICU care. Dealing with a new and, potentially, deadly disease is a surreal experience. Like so many parents working in health care at the time, I was trying to balance patient care while also ensuring that my family remains safe and healthy. Medical training in any field is no easy feat with little ones, but being on the front lines during a pandemic with children adds extra stress. As I reflect on these past years, I can point to some things that I found to be helpful as a physician mom in the pandemic.

  1. A little research goes a long way.
    Finding reliable and good childcare can put your mind at ease. The earlier you start looking, the better. I remember visiting/calling several daycares after looking at their online reviews and talking to my colleagues. The process was time consuming, and I complained about it a lot at the time, but I was able to find a childcare facility that I felt comfortable with. This helped me concentrate on my fellowship, knowing that my infant was well taken care of. The facility proved to be COVID cautious, as well, during the pandemic, which was extremely helpful during the pandemic.
  2. Look for resourceful communities.
    Most cities have social media support groups for physicians, such as ‘physician moms group’ on Facebook, which I have personally found very helpful. I have found all sorts of recommendations on the group from finding a summer babysitter, when my son’s daycare temporarily closed due to the COVID pandemic, to a replacement pediatrician for my son. It has a been a great resource for general childcare advice, as well.
  3. Take some ‘me’ time.
    Being in health care can be stressful, particularly if both partners are physicians. Hiring some extra help for the weekend, even if only for a few hours, can give you the opportunity to decompress. Use those hours to do whatever you like. It serves as a mental reset button. I also noticed that it helped me work more efficiently, particularly during the pandemic.
  4. Focus on quality of time, not the quantity.
    Every physician mom, in one form or another, experiences some degree of mom-guilt. I too suffered from mom-guilt during the pandemic, pretty much all the time until a very wise acquaintance told me, “It’s not quantity of time you spend with your kid that matters, it’s the quality of time.” Since then, I have tried to spend time with my son doing things that he enjoys. I discovered that it does not take a lot to make your child happy. Simple things, such as sitting on a rocking chair with them and asking about their day or reading a book together for a few minutes goes a long way.
  5. Play to your strengths.
    Divide childcare and household responsibilities with your partner, based on your strengths. We both have developed a shared schedule that plays to our strengths. My husband is better at keeping track of our finances, and I have better organizational skills. This helps keeping things distributed fairly.

These handful tips have helped me tremendously in maintaining a work-life balance during the pandemic. While I understand these might not work for everyone, but they do give a general idea on how things can be rearranged to make the most of the time I get with my family.

Faiza Khalid, MD

Faiza Khalid, MD

Dr. Khalid is the Chief Fellow for the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine at Case Western Reserve University (MetroHealth Program) in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to her current fellowship, she completed 1 year of sleep medicine fellowship also at Case Western Reserve University. She is a member of the CHEST Trainee Work Group. Her clinical interests include pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep-related breathing disorders, and medical education.