Raising a Family During Medical School

At 21-years-old I married my high school sweet heart. We enjoyed a short year-and-a-half together before deciding that we were ready for our family to start growing. We had our first child – our wonderful son – while I was still pursing my undergraduate degree. We were pregnant with our second child while I was applying and doing interviews for medical schools. I was accepted to PNWU, and quickly realized that classes started two weeks after the due date of our second child. We were not going to be able to move to Washington before the baby was born. 

We had a 2-year-old, a 2-week-old, an unfamiliar city around us, and a new house to move into. 

Oh, and one of the greatest academic challenges I could ever sign up for was about to begin. 

Probably not how you imagined it, huh? Welcome to life as a medical student. 

I still am not sure how we got through those first few months. 

I found myself either at school or studying for 16-18 hours each day. The only time that I was able to spend time with my children was on the weekend. Each night I would return home to my amazing wife, who had taken on so much so that I could pursue this dream. Exhausted by the monumental task of raising two small children, she was, more often than not, fast asleep by the time I walked in. It was a massive sacrifice right from the start, but I was confident that my dedication would all pay off. 

Then I failed my first exam. 

Immediately the wheels of doubt begin to spin. I wondered if I belonged in school. I doubted myself and my abilities to learn the material. I reached out to those that I was close to -- classmates, family, and friends – and they all assured me that it would get better. “Don’t worry,” they said, “you’ll figure it out.” I had my reservations, but I wasn’t going to give up. Instead, I decided to change my approach. 

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I altered my study plans. I committed to ensuring that my work revolved around my children and wife. While the logic of spending less time studying the material and more time with my family seemed counterintuitive, the results spoke for themselves. 

I recovered from that first test and did well in the class. 

I discovered how to maintain a healthy “me.” I started taking care of myself and, in turn, my problems started taking care of themselves. 

There is no amount of studying or work that can compensate for an unhealthy individual. Building my family relationships; caring for my soul; holding tight to the things that made me happy and healthy: those were the things that allowed me to learn. A little bit of self-care increased my ability to retain information fourfold. 

Learning medicine is a noble pursuit and, like most noble pursuits, it requires significant sacrifices. If you’re reading this, struggling with those very sacrifices, I encourage you to take my advice: maintain relationships with the things that bring you joy and give you purpose. In the end, those connections will prove to be your greatest strengths.

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Cody D. Cunningham

Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences

Cody D. Cunningham