Monday, January 30, 2012

Q & A on Life

I get lots of random questions about "where we are" in our family.  I'm taking this as an opportunity to blog & answer some of those questions here.  Hope this helps!

Q: So, your husband is a Doctor?  How did that happen?

A: He is a Doctor, aka a Physician.  After high school, he spent 5 years in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman.  For him, this means he acted as a cross between a Physician Assistant and a Medical Assistant (simplified explanation).  This is where he became interested in medicine.  The school process went like this: 3 years of undergraduate college = Bachelor's degree in Biology. 4 years of medical school = Doctor of Osteopathy.  He's now in his first year of a 4 year residency program.

Q: What is an Osteopath?  Is he some sort of chiropractor?

A: An Osteopath (DO) is a Physician just like a Medical Doctor (MD) is a Physician.  Both attend 4 year medical school programs, which consist of 2 years of classroom work, and 2 years of in-hospital training.  After graduating, an Osteopath can obtain a residency in any of the sub-specialties available: radiology, surgery, pediatrics, family practice, anesthesiology, etc.  The training differs in that an Osteopath is encouraged to view the patient as a whole, not as a condition (very simplified explanation).  An Osteopath is not a chiropractor.

Q: If he's a Doctor, what's a residency?  Doesn't he have an office somewhere that he works in? 

A: Before graduating from medical school, you apply for a residency program in the field you want to specialize in.  For him, that is Emergency Medicine (EM).  Residency provides specific training in your chosen field.  Residency programs vary in length, from 3-5 years.  EM is a 4 year program.  Once he completes the program and passes all his licensing exams, he will be eligible to take the Board Certification exam for his specialty.

Each year of a residency program is balanced between the specialty field (EM), and other areas that apply to that field.  This means that he spends about 6-7 months in the ER, and the remaining months training in other areas of medicine that overlap with EM - such as Pediatric EM, Trauma, Internal Medicine, Surgery, etc.  As a Resident, he works under the supervision of the Attending Physician on duty.

He spends the majority of his time at the hospital.

Q: What happens after residency?

A: In his last year of residency, he will start to apply for jobs as an Attending Physician.  This means he would be a full-time staff member at the hospital, working without supervision.  We hope to move back West, but it depends on the opportunities available.    

Q: Why choose Emergency Medicine?

A: It was a good fit for him.  While he was in medical school, he did a rotation in the ER, and when he came home that first night he told me that there was no doubt that's what he wanted to do.

EM is also a good fit for our family.  There's no extra office hours and no patients to track down & follow up with.  They usually schedule at least a month out, so we know when he'll be working and when he'll be off.  That's good to know when you've got busy kids!

Q: Was his Dad a Doctor?

A: No one in his family is in the medical field.  In fact, his parents never went to college.  But we were very surprised by how many medical students came from Physician families.

Q: Aren't y'all a little old to have just finished medical school?

A: Yes. We are considered non-traditional students, a broad category which encompasses those who are a little older, those who enjoyed a career or two before returning to school, or pretty much anyone who lived life for a few years instead of plodding directly from high school to college to medical school.  And while it sometimes felt like he was The World's Oldest Medical Student, we have met lots of others who could also fit into that category.  Not only are we older, but we also have young children, so that made us even more "different" than many medical students.

Q: If he had a decent career making good money, why chuck it all and be starving students again?

A: Mostly because we wanted a better life for our family.  His job paid well, but we never knew when he would be working (it was sort of on-call situation).  When he was working, he was gone 24/7, plus we never knew if he would be away for 3 days or 3 weeks.  After talking out all the options, we moved cross-country, lived with family for 6 months, I went back to work full-time, and he started community college classes.  7 years later, here we are!

OK, yes, that is the simple version of events. It came down to this: we didn't want to raise a family with him gone most of the time.  We knew we could do better.  And we believed in our ability to make it happen.  Our marriage is by no means ideal but we have always been great partners, and a supportive partnership was critical to this plan.  

* Note: after reading this, my husband told me that I make it sound like our marriage is nothing but a business partnership.  Not true.  I just meant that we, like everyone, have our share of little difficulties, but that we are 99% together on our overall family & life goals.  

Q: I've heard medical school is sort of expensive.  How did you pay for it?

A: Medical school was incredibly expensive.  Student loans allowed us to pay for medical school and also provided a small amount to live on.  I did work part-time for the first two years, but the last two years we lived on just student loan money.  We now owe hundreds of thousands of dollars.  That's not a typo.  

Q: If he's a Doctor, why is he still driving a 15 year old car? 

A: Well, he is getting paid while in residency, but it's not "doctor money".  Right now we make less than the national median household income.  For a single person this is decent money, but for a family it's a little challenging.  We have what we need, but there is little room for wants.  

Q:  What's his schedule like?  Is he gone a lot? 

A: His schedule isn't bad, but it does vary.  When he's in the ER, we know up front what his schedule will be for the month - usually 18, 12 hour shifts.  But he also is required to attend additional trainings, meetings, and testing through the month.  Often his "days off" turn into another 3, 4, or 5 hours at the hospital.

Q: If he's gone so much, don't you get lonely? 

A: Sometimes.  I've always been very independent, and I also think that his previous career prepared me to be even more self-sufficient.  Mostly I've learned to be flexible.

Q: Is he going to make a boatload of money when he finishes his residency? 

A: We don't know.  We hope he's fairly compensated commensurate to his education, training, and certifications.  Even if he does make a "boatload" of money, we still have student loans to pay back (see above: HUNDREDS of thousands), we have to start saving hard for retirement (see above: we are OLD), and our kids will be fast approaching college age.  So, no Ferraris for us!

Q: You don't talk about his job very much.  If my husband was a Doctor, I'd be shouting it from the rooftops!

A: I am incredibly proud of his accomplishments.  But yes, we tend to keep it quiet.  We've found that "Physician" is very polarizing to people - everyone has an opinion about doctors, and they are not shy about sharing them.

Q: I have a (insert medical condition here).  Will he give me some medicine for it? 

A: No.  If you have an emergency, you should go to the emergency room.  If you have a medical condition, you should see your family physician.  It would be irresponsible of him to diagnose or prescribe pharmaceuticals for you unless you were under his care (ie, his patient in the ER).

Q: It must be great to have a doctor in the family.  He can get you any kind of prescription you need!

A: Yes, and No.  I'm proud of him.  But he doesn't prescribe for our family.  If we are sick, we go to the family doctor/ pediatrician like everyone else.

Q: What do you think about the current state of healthcare in America?

A: I don't think there's enough space on the internet for me to share my feelings about healthcare in America.  All I will say about this subject is that the ER is heavily abused, and has become the dumping ground for every cough, sneeze, and WebMD self-diagnosis.

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