I'm a 25-year-old, single woman. I have been studying for my nursing degree. Lately my professors have been pointing out that they feel I'd make a wonderful physician. I know I will enjoy being a nurse, but do not know if I'd be reaching my fullest potential. Being a doctor has been a thought in the back of my mind for a few years now, but I feel that doctors may encounter conflicts when it comes to being a mother, and God-willing when I am a mother, my children will be the most important thing to me. I am concerned that I could wind up both a "sub-par" mother and doctor.
However, there's another thought that nags at me. What if I don't get married? I very much want to, but there are no guarantees. I put effort and time into dating on top of school and other things I have going on in my life, but what if in another few years I am a nurse.... and still single. I constantly strive to better myself as a person. When I entered the dating scene I wasn't even career-minded. I just wanted to get married and start a family, but things worked out very differently.
What should I do in this situation? How can I build my life around marriage and children that don't yet exist?
Dear Shoshie ,
We're glad you wrote to us. You're predicament isn't that uncommon among women who have been raised with the expectation that being become wives and mothers is the most important role they can fulfill in life, and that having a career is of secondary importance. That may seem like an anachronistic viewpoint to some of the people who read our column, because contemporary Western culture often seems to endorse the view that one finds the greatest fulfillment in a career, and that the role of parents is a secondary one. However, the traditional Jewish worldview is that one's role as a parent and spouse (and how we live our lives as God's children) is far more important than the career we pursue.
We like the way a friend of ours described how he prioritizes his life. He's a former air force officer, earned degrees from prestigious American universities, and co-owns a successful high-tech start-up. "I love what I do for a living. It's exciting and challenging." he says, "But the primary focus of my life is learning Torah and building a Jewish family. My livelihood is just a means for me to accomplish what's really important."
Our friend made an important point -- even though our career may be a means to an end rather than the focal point of our life, it can certainly be stimulating, fulfilling, and lucrative. And you made an important point in your letter -- that an individual should choose a career they think will be compatible with their priorities and the lifestyle they want to live.
A different career may provide more fulfillment, but you're not sure whether to pursue it.
As we see it, your dilemma is whether the field you're currently studying, which you think you will enjoy and which you feel is compatible with being a mother and raising a family, will provide you with intellectual stimulation and a sense of fulfillment, or whether you should begin to study for a different career -- one that you're not even sure you want to pursue, and which you think will have an adverse effect on your ability to be a good mother. When we present the dilemma this way, without naming the careers themselves, there seem to be better reasons to stick with the career you are currently studying. Still, it's a good idea to find out answers to some of the other questions you've raised before coming to a decision.
You wonder whether you'll reach your fullest potential as a nurse. Is that because what you are studying isn't stimulating, or because you've caught onto the material quickly and want to learn more, or because other people are telling you that you're "too capable" to be a nurse (sadly, some physicians don't appreciate the fact that nurses are eminently capable and often play a greater role in day to day patient care than doctors)? Most of the people we know in the nursing field love their profession and find it to be rewarding and stimulating. There are dozens of areas of specialization for holders of basic nursing degrees, as well as a great deal of room for advancement for nurses who want more responsibility and higher income, such as the fields of nurse-practitioner, nurse-anesthetist, nurse-midwife, clinical nurse specialist, and nurse researcher. Why not speak with some people who work in various specialties to get a better idea of how you can excel and advance in this field?
At the same time, we think it's a good idea to look into the idea of becoming a doctor. Be honest with yourself -- is this a career you'd really like to have? For what reason -- the responsibility it entails, the challenges, the impact it will have on others, the prestige, the income? Are you prepared to go through college, medical school, residency, and a fellowship before you have a medical specialty? How will you handle the costs, the time commitment, the possibility of relocating to attend medical school or find a residency? After considering all of these questions, ask yourself which career you would choose if being a doctor wouldn't keep you from "being the kind of mother you want to be."
If your answer is "a doctor," then we suggest you explore the impact this career may have on your goal of raising a family. Speak to doctors and medical students who are also mothers, to see how they are able to balance their responsibilities to their families and their responsibilities to their studies, residency programs, or practices. It is important for you to speak to women whose overall lifestyles and perspectives are more like yours. We think you will be surprised to learn that most of the women you speak with are dedicated mothers who have made their careers compatible with their family lives, and that many of have a number of children.
Ask them how they handle the balancing act, and if they have regrets.
You'll also find that while medical students and residents have grueling schedules that provide less than optimal time for family life, after leaving their residencies, medical moms often work in specialties that allow for flexible hours and schedules. Ask them how they handle the balancing act, if they have regrets, and what they like about they way they combine career and motherhood. Then, you can decide if you want to try to combine being a doctor with motherhood.
The final question you've raised is: "If I don't become a doctor because I think it's incompatible with motherhood, and I don't get married, will I regret the choice I've made?" We can't answer that for you. However, you're not choosing between an "inferior" career and a "superior" one. Either choice has many benefits -- both careers require intelligence and dedication and can provide you with a stimulating, fulfilling way to earn your livelihood. And each choice has positive and negative aspects.
It may help you to bear in mind that many people have a difficult time choosing a career, and weigh various factors before making their choice. A person who hopes to move to Israel someday may decide on a career that is in demand in that country. Another person may make a decision after reading articles that predict the best careers for the next decade. Someone else may decide to go into the family business and take courses that are relevant to that industry. But, there's a Yiddish expression, "Man plans and God laughs." The move to Israel may never happen, the predicted career may become obsolete, and the family business may go under.
And even though you worry that you may not get married, we hope that you focus instead on the positive. With God's help, you will get married. And at the same time that you pursue this goal, you will also be pursuing a career that interests you and that you hope will be compatible with the lifestyle you aspire to have. Although you won't know the turns your life will take, you'll be well prepared to encounter them.
We wish you all the best,
Rosie & Sherry