Why Motherhood Made Me a Better Doctor
An Unexpected Revelation in Surgery and Parenthood
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.
This post was originally published on The Doctor Blog.
Dr. Lara Devgan, MD, MPH is a Yale-educated, Johns Hopkins-instructed, and Columbia/New York Presbyterian-trained plastic and reconstructive surgeon. An attending plastic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital and Manhattan Eye, Ear & Throat Infirmary, she has spoken nationally and internationally on numerous plastic surgery topics. Her research and writing have been published in the New York Times, ABC News, and dozens of surgical publications. She is an editorial consultant for The Lancet, a peer reviewer for Aesthetic Surgery Journal, and a medical expert for ABC News.