For Dylan Simkins, a first-year medical student, dinner is a special time. Not because the day full of classes and studying is done, but because when he gets home, his two young children rush to the door to give him a warm welcome.
Simkins, a medical student who is father to 3-year-old Livia and 10-month-old Gabe, and husband to Natalee, said assuming each role brings a day-to-day “game of balancing.”
“Every day is a little bit different between what gets priority. Some days, it’s gonna be medical school. Some days it’s my family. Some days it’s my wife. And so it’s been a learning journey of learning how to balance life, but it definitely can be done,” Simkins said.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, exact figures regarding how many babies are born to graduate students during their school years are “elusive,” and Ohio State’s College of Medicine does not track how many of its students are parents while in school, Marti Leitch, spokesperson for the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State, said in an email. But according to the University of California, 634 of its graduate students out of more than 5,000 respondents self-reported being parents in response to its 2016 Graduate Wellbeing Survey.
Ryan Bradbury, a third-year medical student, husband and father of three with a baby on the way, said there is a misconception about having a family while being in school.
“I think that people view having a family in medical school as being a lot harder and scarier than it actually is,” Bradbury said.
The college offers accommodations such as maternity and paternity leave, university child care, lactation rooms and excused absences for parenting needs on a case-by-case basis, Leitch said.
Bradbury said medical school and college is not geared toward students who are parents.
“For instance, they may hold meetings in the evening at say 7 p.m., and it’s like, well, that doesn’t really work for someone who’s married and has kids,” Bradbury said.
Simkins said his experience as a father makes his experience as a medical student different than other students because he treats school as a job with set hours.
“You need to learn how to be more effective in studying than perhaps your classmates because you just have less time,” Simkins said.
After his “work hours” are over, Simkins said playing with his kids is a great release from the stress of his responsibilities, which also include working part time to provide for his family. Bradbury said parents in situations like his should stop doing schoolwork after dinner and on the weekends to spend time building relationships with loved ones.
Simkins said his family acts as a constant reminder of one of the reasons he decided to go into medicine: to be able to provide for them one day.
“You need something that takes your mind off of studying, and for me, when my kids run up and give me a hug and want me to be a horse and want to do a puzzle with me and play with me, instantly med school is gone,” Simkins said.
Natalee Simkins stays home with the children, which Dylan said she finds lonely. But finding balance among his priorities has led to a stronger relationship between them, he said.
“We’ve realized how dependent we are on each other, and realizing that dependence has made us appreciate each other more, has made us love each other more,” Dylan Simkins said.
Bradbury said being in medical school has allowed him and his wife Caitlin to face challenges as a unit.
Simkins said he recommends that people in similar situations find a good support network for their spouse — like friends whose spouses also attend medical school — especially when far away from family members.
At Ohio State, Simkins said his family takes advantage of movie nights at the Ohio Union, family time at the recreational facilities on Saturdays, including swimming at the RPAC, and family-friendly activities put on by graduate and professional students. Bradbury said his family also takes advantage of the RPAC’s child care service for the occasional date night.
Simkins said his family has provided him with a greater sense of empathy, like when a mother and her sick child came in for care or when a man received a diagnosis that made him unable to continue working.
“I would say that the experiences I’ve had as a father has helped me relate to patients on a very different level that I don’t know that I would have had otherwise,” Simkins said.
Bradbury said he advises students in a similar situation to think about life down the road when setting priorities.
“Think about your future. What’s going to be most important to you when you’re an old geezer? Well, are you going to remember how much time you spent studying and the grades you got? Are you going to remember all the times you got to read the kids in the evening, or make dinner with your wife or the date nights you went on?” Bradbury said. “No one ever gets toward the end of their life and says, ‘I wish I spent more time on my schooling.’”