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So Are You Still Going To Work?: Stigma of Working Mothers in Medicine

Since I was young, I’ve always had very specific personal ambitions, to have a job I love where I’m able to help people and to have a family that I also love. I worked hard during college and my physician assistant program to become a dermatology PA, which fulfilled my first goal. A few months ago, a pregnancy test indicated that my second desire was in the works.

Working at an all female practice, my news of expecting was met with excitement and instantly trying to figure out how to make sure my schedule was clear for my maternity leave. My husband is an internal medicine resident and while he’s excited, he knows that residency will be keeping him busy during those first few sleepless months with our new baby. Family and friends shared in my joy, but I was soon met repeatedly with the same question:

“So are you still going to work?”

To be honest, this wasn’t a question that I had considered before getting pregnant. Having a baby and working full-time were not independent concepts to me, but this same question just kept coming up from acquaintances and strangers alike. I’ve always heard that unwelcome opinions often accompany a pregnancy announcement, but this wasn’t one I was expecting. It’s a well-known fact that I enjoy my job and it hasn’t been a simple path to get here, but I took some time to reflect.

I’ve had great examples of working moms. My own parents were both teachers, and the women I work with do a great job of balancing their time at the office with family time. Being a spectator and personally affected by working parents has shown me so many benefits that I want my own children to experience. I can be available while still pursuing my own passions, and I want my kids to develop their own interests and know that anything is possible if they are dedicated. I want them to see me working hard and understand why it’s important for me to work and be there for my patients in addition to my family. Family will always come first, but I would be doing patients a disservice to disregard my medical training.

None of this is to say that working or quitting is a “better” option, but that it’s awesome to have multiple options. I’m very quick to let people who inquire know that I plan to continue working even though I’m in a career as a PA that offers a lot of flexibility. There is no “right” choice, and I don’t plan on making anyone feel like they are less than for whatever they choose. My answer of working has been met with, “Well, I never worked while my kids were little,” or “How can you trust someone to take care of your kids?” But these are things we’ll figure out along the way, and I hope my kids will be better for it.

Whether a parent chooses to work or stay home, it’s such a personal decision with so many factors. Being in healthcare, I’ve just started to feel the stigma that is associated with being a working mom, (and I haven’t even delivered yet!) but this experience has given me a new perspective that I’ll continue to take into consideration when parents share their childcare plans with me in the future. And maybe I’ll change my mind about working in the future, but I think I’ll do just fine with a career and a family.

About the author:

Savanna Perry PA-C is a practicing dermatology physician assistant living and working in Augusta, GA. In her free time, Savanna enjoys exploring her town and traveling with her husband, who is currently an internal medicine resident. She is also the founder of The PA Platform, a popular website for Pre-PA and current PA students.