There has been a lot of discussion, rightfully so, on physicians and in particular, surgeons, delaying the start of their own families and childbirth. This phenomenon is not unique to the medical community as young professionals in many career paths are delaying or omitting these once seemingly requisite life events for a variety of reasons including economic insecurity, desire for personal freedom, career aspirations, and inability to find a suitable partner (source: 2018 Morning Consult survey for The New York Times). As many people know, I am married to Dr. Janice Taylor and we have two smart and beautiful children. She and I actually met on the residency interview trail and both happened to match at the University of Cincinnati for general surgery in 2003. We got married in 2007, yet didn’t have our first child until 2013 when we were finished with our fellowships (pediatric surgery and surgical oncology). While there is no “right” time to get married or have children, should you choose, I am here to say that there is no “wrong” time either. While I have had friends who have gotten married and had children in medical school, residency, and beyond, I have also had many who have deferred. One can choose to delay or not participate in these life events for a variety of reasons and it is nobody’s position to judge you on your decision except yourself. For me and Janice, these decisions were our own and have worked out quite well for us. Being a spouse and parent in a two-surgeon family presents many challenges but these have been written before and many are self-evident (How do you balance call schedules? Do you have a nanny? How do you get vacation off?). What about the challenges for the children? Janice and I recently sat down with our kids who are 8 and 5 (“and a half”) while we were on vacation to ask them about having parents who are surgeons. Here is what they had to say:
Surgeon parent: What is the hardest thing about having a mommy and daddy who are surgeons?
8y/o: When they work at home they are really busy and I can’t play with them but when they’re done then I can play with them.
5y/o: I don’t like when the patients are sick.
Surgeon parent: How do you feel when mommy or daddy have to go back into work at night or on the weekend?
8y/o: Sad because I miss them and I want them to come back and say goodnight or play with me. When they come back early then they can say goodnight to me.
5y/o: Sad because they don’t get to play or say good night to us.
Surgeon parent: What is your favorite thing about mommy or daddy being a surgeon?
8y/o: That they can help other people who are hurt so that they can be better.
5y/o: When they come home.
Surgeon parent: What do you want to be when you grow up?
8y/o: I want to be a professional basketball player or chess master.
5y/o: Maybe a surgeon or maybe I want to be everything when I grow up.
Surgeon parent: Who is the better cook, mommy or daddy?
8y/o: I want to pick both because I don’t want to make someone sad but if I have to pick one it would be Daddy.
5y/o: Daddy (as she stuck her finger in my nose).
It will be interesting to see how their answers change as the years pass. We are mindful about making sure one of us is always present and that we do our best to have them understand what our jobs entail, creating entertaining conversations at the kitchen table. While we feel that they do grasp that sometimes things aren’t flexible, we try our best to get quality time with them although there is always room for improvement based on their answers. To a large degree, home time is kid time, and we focus on them until they go to bed. It takes efficient time management to fulfill the various obligations in our positions but there’s nothing like a solid marathon of Go Fish, complete with 5-year-old smack talk, to really put any timeline into perspective and being present for our kids. What this exercise has taught us is that being “present” can be different things for different people, family or not, and everyone has the right to set their own priorities.
And with that, it’s time to pack up in the car to hunt for shave ice.
Dr. Thomas is board certified in General Surgery and Complex General Surgical Oncology and is the chief of General Surgery for the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System.
Dr. Taylor is board certified in General Surgery and Pediatric Surgery and is the program director of the University of Florida pediatric surgery fellowship and associate program director of the UF general surgery residency.
Most importantly, they are parents of two marvelous children.