Dr. Summer Allen needs someone to tell her that if she feeds her 3-year-old Cheetos for breakfast, it's just fine and she's not alone. No judging necessary.
She and a large group of busy physician mommies at the University of Mississippi Medical Center are getting support and affirmation from 45,000 colleagues who are members of the Physician Moms Group on Facebook. The closed group includes members worldwide who weigh in on any number of topics, from stress to strep to style.
“If you have questions about your child and don't know the answer, you get 45,000 doctors who can contribute,” said Allen, a pulmonary critical care fellow. “You might get 10 dermatologists who answer your question about your child's rash.”
Perhaps a cardiologist or radiologist will relate to your occasional need to make Cheetos a breakfast food. “I'd feel like I'm a mommy fail,” Allen said. “Then someone says, 'I let my child eat cookies for breakfast.' ”
The Facebook group takes inspiration from Physicians Working Together, a national grass-roots organization that provides education on the challenges facing the medical profession and its impact on patient care. The group on Feb. 3 joined the Physician Moms Group and other prominent medical organizations in celebrating the first National Women Physicians Day.
Feb. 3 is the birthday of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States. Physicians Working Together is “enthusiastic about the future of women in our profession because of the numerous breakthroughs and progress in the medical and research fields, and our commitment to mentor the next generation of women physicians to reach their full potential in the various areas of health care,” said Dr. Kim Jackson, founder and president of Georgia-based Physicians Working Together.
Allen (center) and 3-year-old daughter Maddie share a cup of yogurt in the UMMC cafeteria before Allen begins a night shift. Her husband and Maddie’s father, Bear Allen, often brings Maddie to the hospital to visit when she works double shifts.
Allen, mom to Maddie, joined the Facebook group after it formed about a year ago. “As one person found out about it, they added woman doctors that they knew,” she said. “All of my best friends who are doctors with me are part of this group.”
She visits the page every day.
“An actual website is being built, but right now you see all the posts from mommy physicians, and that's how we stay connected,” Allen said. “I've posted on there about my own child. I needed help about an ophthalmology question, and it was over the Thanksgiving holidays. I didn't want to wait five days to see a doctor. About 10 ophthalmologists gave me answers to my questions.”
“It's important, because it gives women in medicine a safe place to be real,” said Dr. Jericho Bell, assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics and mom to Grace, 3, and twin boys Peter and Nathaniel, 1. “People post very personal things, sometimes very sad and tragic. It's such a reminder that we are all real people with real problems.”
It's not just medical information that draws them to the page. “It's things that you would tell your best friends,” Allen said. “And there are a bunch of sub-groups that have formed from this main group. There's a fitness group and I'm part of it. There's a style group, where someone might say, 'I only wear scrubs.' Some people need to vent about their spouse.”
Said Bell: “One mom posted a picture of her toddler throwing a tantrum at the kitchen counter, and across the counter is her smiling husband, working at the counter. People will share about struggles with their health or their family. You can find common bonds.”
Dr. Seema McKenzie, assistant professor of medicine and a hospitalist, also is intrigued by the variety of information available from the group. “People post about different cases, but they also post the most random things: 'Here's a picture of two dresses. Which should I wear to a party tonight?'
“I have a 10-month-old son, and I was having issues with his formula and eczema when he was three months old,” McKenzie said of Dylan, who has a big brother, 3-year-old Neil. “I'd talked to my pediatrician, but I posed the question: What should I do?”
“There was a day when I said, 'I haven't bathed my 3-year-old in four days.' About a hundred other people posted the same thing,” Allen said. “People post hilarious, funny things. I can't tell you how many times I've laughed out loud at a post.”
“I'm on the page all the time,” said Dr. Rachael Faught, a pulmonary and critical care fellow and mom to sons, Randle, 2, and Ryan, four weeks. “I've only asked a couple of questions. Mostly, I like to read other people's questions and the responses. Someone will throw out a question, and you'll say, 'Hey, I want to know the answer to that.
“It's amazing. It's all specialties, so you end up learning things all the time,” said Faught, who used the site to help land a job post-fellowship.
But you won't catch Faught venting on the page. “It's lost some of its anonymity,” she said. “People say that they post something, and it gets back to whoever they posted about.”
Like Allen, Faught sees the group as a place where she can compare notes with kindred moms. “People will post funny things that their kids did, and you can relate. Kids are so funny and so weird. A lot of people like to post things that they're proud of that their kids did.”
Oncology fellow Dr Janelle Bennett said she used the Physician Moms Group to help make her decision on child care for her 1-year-old, Hendrix Perez, whose dad is neurosurgery resident Dr. Augustus Perez.
“One of the hardest decisions was putting him in daycare,” Bennett said. “A nanny was hard to afford. I was on the Physician Moms Group and talked about my fears about putting him in daycare, and a lot of people gave me advice and really put me more at ease.”
The group has enhanced Allen's friendships with other women physicians at UMMC. “We all get together and do things. We take the kids to the park or do other stuff, and the kids all play together,” Allen said.
Bell notes that although it's a group for moms who are doctors, only a small number are pediatricians. “A lot of moms in medicine feel they'll be shamed if they ask pediatric questions. People who are doctors are expected to know everything about everything.”
But on the Facebook site, everybody's a mom in medicine who has questions or wants to share.
“It helps you to know and understand that we do the best we can, and sometimes we're a better doctor and sometimes we're a better mom,” Allen said. “We take care of sick people, but sometimes, we need help taking care of our own sick child.”