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Jennie, a 28-year-old fourth-year medical student, is thrilled—she just matched into the surgical residency of her choice. However, she is also apprehensive; her live-in boyfriend has agreed to move with her across the country, but she is worried if she will be able to maintain their relationship given the rigors of her chosen profession. She is also worried that, even if the relationship succeeds and they get married, will she be able to balance residency with raising a family? She’s unsure how to begin planning for this and doesn’t know of any role model to whom to turn.

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1. What people could serve as resources for Jennie to discuss her concerns?

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2. What expectations should Jennie set with her boyfriend about how her residency will affect their relationship?

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3. What obstacles (prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal) will she face if she wants to have a baby during residency?

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4. Name some healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms for stress during residency.

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Work-Life Balance

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Answers
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You can have it all, just not all at once.

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Motto of the Association of Women Surgeons

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The responsibilities of a surgical resident are impressive and can be overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges is that the hours are unpredictable and inflexible. There are few jobs that require 14-hour shifts, 12 days in a row, including holidays and weekends. Sick days and personal days are pretty much nonexistent, except for extreme circumstances; it’s hard to take any time off when you know your team and your sick patients are depending on you. As a physician, maintaining the health and safety of your patients is paramount, occasionally at the expense of your own. This commitment to duty means many missed family dinners, friends’ weddings, and other important milestones. These time demands frequently detrimentally impact interpersonal relationships. Therefore, it is important for the surgical resident to have a robust set of tools for the recognition and management of work–life conflicts.

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On the bright side, the surgical world is changing and is, overall, much more humane today. Thanks to work-hour restrictions, residents are finding time for social outlets, meeting significant others, and starting families. There are many more female surgical attendings today, some of whom are also married with children. However, the relentlessness of resident work responsibilities will consume a much greater proportion of time, and for a much longer duration, than arguably anything else a medical student has faced thus far. Think of it as a transition from running the 100-yd dash to a marathon. While it may be possible to put off personal responsibilities during a tough medical student rotation or 2, life cannot be managed that way for the 5 to 7 years of a ...

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