Anyone who knows me knows that I love being a surgeon, and I love being a mother and wife. Those are the very best things in my life, and I am grateful everyday that I don't have to choose between them.
Yesterday, I received a very touching email from a high school freshman in Texas asking me about balancing career and family. She wrote:
Dear Dr. Devgan, Hi there! I am a freshman in high school and I am extremely interested in becoming a surgeon, but I also want to be able to balance my career with a family. I read your post on kevinmd.com about being a mother and a surgeon. I was wondering if you could tell me about how you have balanced your life so well. You are one of my inspirations to prove to people that I can have my dream career and family too. Thank you so much. -K.R.
This sweet email was also very poignant to me, as it stirred up many feelings I have had during the past several decades of education, training, and practicing. I will be the first to admit that the road to a surgical career has been long, challenging, and filled with sacrifices. But that being said, I absolutely love what I do, and I wouldn't change a thing about my journey to get here.
I am thrilled that young women and girls like K.R. are growing up in an era when they don't feel like they have to choose between being a physician and being a mom. My grandmother (herself a mother of three) was a busy doctor, and so are my mother (herself a mother of four) and my older sister (also a mother of four). I am incredibly fortunate to have these strong women as role models. I know that the challenges that they faced were far greater than the ones that I faced, and I am hopeful that the next generation of female doctors (like K.R.) has an even smoother path than I have had.
If you are a young person-- male or female-- interested in a career in surgery, please know that you do not have to choose between your dream job and your ideal family structure. There are people of all descriptions and all circumstances who have done it, and you can do it too.
As I told K.R., being organized and determined are the two most important factors in getting there. Study hard, expose yourself to science and medicine, choose a supportive spouse, and rely on help from others when you have kids.
I am always happy to mentor young people interested in surgical careers, and if you would like to reach out to me directly, you may email Lara@LaraDevganMD.com.
Being a mother has made me a better physician
Once in a while someone asks me if it is hard to be a mother and a surgeon. Certainly, any surgeon-parent can appreciate that juggling a household full of schedules, classes, meals, bedtimes, and activities with a practice full of office visits, pre-operative clearances, post-operative check-ups, and surgeries has its challenges. And to be sure, before I became a mother I had no idea how this would impact my work.
What I have found, however, has been a pleasant surprise. In many ways, being a mother has made me a better physician. Perhaps it is because I am a plastic surgeon and most of my patients are women, but I have found that my ability to empathize with my patients has dramatically improved. When a woman speaks to me in confidence about how breastfeeding has destroyed her breasts, or about how her jeans still don’t fit even though she is back at her pre-pregnancy weight, I am able to nod my head with genuine understanding. When a child shows up in the ER with a broken nose or facial laceration after taking a spill at the playground, I see their big, worried eyes in a way that I never did before I became a mother myself.
Motherhood has also added a gentleness to my demeanor. My experience in academic surgery during residency training often involved quickly and sometimes harshly cutting to the chase. In private practice, I spend time seeing patients who are wrestling with breast cancer, skin cancer, debilitating injuries, and body consciousness that can sometimes be difficult to talk about out loud. I have the luxury of more time to spend with my patients, and I make sure that I spend nearly an hour with every new patient I see. Motherhood has given me a sense of patience that greatly assists in taking the time to really listen.
Finally, raising a child from the tiny stages of infancy has made me appreciate the minute delicacy of plastic surgery more than ever before. In a field where margins as small as one millimeter are visually apparent, obtaining excellent, exacting, and meticulous results is important. Perhaps it is all those hours spent gazing at a newborn that drove home the point so emphatically in my day-to-day work life.
I certainly could not be as effective a surgeon or mother without an incredible support network, a loving family, and lots of child care — and to those things, I am forever indebted. But for young women in medical school and residency wondering if they have to choose a career in surgery or a family, I hope they consider that perhaps they not only can choose both, but that there are strong arguments for doing so.
Lara Devgan is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and can be reached on the self-titled site, Lara Devgan, MD, MPH.