The Strong MD | Season 2 Episode 1

Doctor Mom: Mastering the Balance with Dr. Abramoff

Embark on an intimate exploration of the life of a physician who is also a mother, as Dr. Jaime Seeman welcomes Dr. Claire Abramoff to The Strong MD podcast. Dr. Abramoff, a board-certified emergency medicine specialist, shares her journey from medical school to motherhood, discussing the challenges and triumphs of balancing a demanding career with the joys and pressures of raising children. This episode offers an unfiltered look at the realities of being a female physician navigating the complexities of work-life integration, maternity leave, and the pursuit of personal wellness in a high-stress environment. Whether you’re a medical professional, a parent striving for balance, or simply someone seeking inspiration from stories of resilience, this conversation is an empowering testament to the strength and adaptability of working mothers in medicine.

Published on
July 08, 2024

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Empowering Women in White Coats: Dr. Abramoff’s Journey Through Medicine and Motherhood

Dr. Abramoff is focused on empowering female physicians and residents

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Welcome to the Strong MD podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Jaime Seeman. On today’s episode, I’ll be sitting down with Dr. Abramoff. Dr. Abramoff graduated from the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health in 2013. She is board certified in emergency Med and currently works in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, specializing in emergency medicine. She is a doctor who is focused on empowering female physicians, residents, and medical students. Enjoy today’s episode.

Dr. Abramoff, welcome to Strong MD podcast

Dr. Abramoff, welcome to the Strong MD podcast.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Awesome. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here, so I’m.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Going to go right into it. I understand that you worked last night, were up last night being a super mom and a doctor. So I completely resonate with that. Just that coming into this week, I had a few nights where I was up all night. I was at the hospital. I’m an OBGYN. But, then I had to be up the next day, and I had to be a mom and I had to be in clinic, and I had to be doing all these things. So I want to talk about that.

Jaime Seeman met her husband in medical school and married after residency

But first, give our listeners just kind of an idea of your background and your pathway to medicine.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. So I am an emergency medicine physician. I work in north Philadelphia. I grew up always knowing I wanted to be a doctor or a veterinarian, I think, like a lot of us do. Went to college in Maryland, medical school at Ohio State, go bucks, and then met my husband in medical school. And we survived the couple’s match. We ended up in Emory for our residency, trained there for a while, did my fellowship there, moved to Chicago for my husband’s fellowship. And then when we were finally done with training and we could choose where we wanted to live for the first time in our lives, we came to Philadelphia. Been here ever since, which is exciting. I had three kids along the way, one in residency, one right after fellowship, and then one as an attending. And it’s been a whole journey. It’s been a process to get here.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Okay, well, there’s so many things we’re going to talk about there. I’m not married to medicine. My husband does not work in the medical field. But tell us about that journey of meeting your husband in your training and getting married. I mean, tell us about that dynamic and some of the hurdles and struggles that you guys had to endure in that process.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah, I mean, in a way, I feel like I’m lucky that I met my husband while we were still in school and that I never had to adventure into the online dating world or try the dating apps. I got to meet him in school, in person, and not have to deal with a lot of that. he was a year ahead of me in medical school, and we met working for one of the free clinics, that Ohio state runs. Our first date was Medprom, my first year, which I think is adorable. And then we’ve been together ever since I was a first year medical student, so we got engaged my fourth year during. I got home from an audition rotation. I went back to Maryland to do an audition rotation. And the night I got home, I got engaged, which is exciting. and then we got married the summer between med school and starting residency.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: So he was a year different than you. So tell me how that works. As far as you said, couples match. So you clearly were going through this match at the same time. And for somebody that’s listening right now, that’s not in medicine, you have to do this thing called residency match, which is almost like, It’s kind of based on the sorority system in college, where you kind of interview, they interview you, and you get ranked. But when we did it, I’m interested to hear how your school did it. Back in the day when we did residency match day, we walked up on a stage in front of an entire room of people, and you went up to the microphone and said, I’m Dr. Jaime Seeman, and I’m doing obstetrics and gynecology, and I’m going to wherever it was. And then you put little pin on the map where you’re going. But you literally found out at the same moment that the entire room found out. So whether it was your first choice or your last choice, you’re standing on this podium in front of a room full of people. They actually have changed it to make it a little more kind. I feel like, now. But I’m interested to hear what it was like at Ohio State.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: I always thought that was so inhumane, the schools that made you go up on stage and open the envelope in front of everyone. It’s cruel. at Ohio state, we went to the stage, we got handed our envelopes, and then we all went back to our seats and opened our envelopes, kind of sitting around each other in the auditorium, so still in front of everyone, but not on stage. Singled out, thankfully.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Well, and this is like a big life event. I mean, you’re talking about where you’re going to do your training. You’re going to have to move to this place. You said you had one child in medical school.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Residency. I had no kids in medical school.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Thankfully. So I had my first daughter, going into my fourth year of medical school. So, I mean, I have a nine month old baby, like, on my hip with my husband standing up there. I mean, you’re talking about big life changes. Is my husband going to be able to keep his job? Who’s going to help us take care of the baby? These are like really big things that med students and residents are having to think about. And thankfully, I matched close to home, had great family. So where did you guys match for? Did you match in the same place? I mean, couples match. Obviously, you’re trying to get to the same institution, right?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes, thankfully, we matched at the same place at Emory. so we succeeded in the couple’s match. So my husband was a year ahead of me in medical school, and he stayed at Ohio state a year longer to do a master’s so that we could match together. because otherwise it’s just you’re not in the couples match. It really is kind of a crapshoot if you’re going to end up in the same place or not. We’re spending. Exactly. Yeah. Or the entire residency apart, like I know some of my colleagues have done. it is kind of crazy that you make this list of, places you could match, and then the residency program is now coming from the other side. I’m one of the assistant program directors. And then we make the list of the candidates we want to match, and then we just hand it over to a computer to kind of decide the lives and the fates of these fourth year medical students and where they’re going to end up for the next several years. It’s a crazy process.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: What area of medicine does he practice in?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So he is a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, PMR, and he did a fellowship in spinal cord injury.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Okay.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So vastly different kind of sides of medicine than what I do, but,

Dr. Jaime Seeman: It’S kind of like yin and yang sometimes. You don’t want to be in the same profession. You each want your own little world. but at least you both know enough about medicine to talk about it and, kind, of enjoy each other’s.

You had your first child in your second year of residency

So you couples match, you end up at Emory. Tell us about having your first child in. Your know, truthfully, looking back, I feel.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Like I’ve kind of blanked out a lot of my first pregnancy and the infant years. it’s really hard as a resident. I got pregnant, gosh, end of my intern year. and I had my baby middle of my second year. my oldest, Sam, he’s now nine. It was just his birthday last week. He’s crazy now. He calls me brah, and it’s like all the slang is coming out.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: 810 and twelve. We’re very much in the, preteen awkward state.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes. It’s like, where did my cute, fat little baby go? but yeah, so I had him January, of my second year of residency, I got, I think, five and a half weeks of maternity leave. which was.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Was that your choice? Did you choose to do that or. That’s kind of like, hey, this is how much time you get off.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So that was how much time I could get off without extending my residency. and at the time, in hindsight, I ended up doing fellowship at Emory. So in hindsight, I should have taken longer off, because I was going to be in emory afterwards. But I didn’t know that at the time. And I thought, maybe we would be done, maybe we’d be moving. And I didn’t want to delay my husband starting fellowship or me starting fellowship elsewhere if I had to make up time after residency. so I took off the five weeks because I was able to use some elective time and use some of my vacation time to take that time off without having to make it up at the end, which, again, hindsight, if I had, someone who had been mentoring me at the time, or if I had been mentoring myself at the time, I would have said, no way, take off eight weeks. Take off twelve weeks, take off time. But I didn’t know that at the time.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: I had my second daughter when I was a second year resident as well, and I had a really great mentor. She was a transplant surgeon. I really looked up to her. But she got married much later in life and had her children when she was, attending and very established. And she looked me right in the face and said, to have your babies early, your time is more protected as a med student and as a resident than when you’re in private practice. And time is money. And when I had my daughter our second year, same thing. There’s these ACGMA rules about how much time you could miss during your training and residency. So I could take, it was, I think, 20 weeks because I was in a four year residency program. So 20 weeks for the whole residency, couldn’t take more than eight weeks in a year. So when I had my second daughter, my husband and I sat down and I only took four weeks of maternity leave. I’m actually going to maybe just highlight the pros and the cons. That sounds horrible to most people, but I’m a very kind of driven, type a doctor personality and it was very isolating being home with a newborn. The only thing on TV was Maury Povich. I’m not having the normal cerebral cognitive conversations I get to have. so for me, it was kind of actually good going back and starting to kind of use my brain again and be a doctor and then come home and I get to be a mom. but I also didn’t want to take eight weeks and then not have a day off for the rest of the entire year. So I felt like, for my mental health, I’m going to take four weeks now and then I’m going to take a week here and a week here and a week here. And thankfully, I had a very supportive partner that could take some time off and a mother in law who could watch my baby until she was twelve weeks old. But, there’s so much pressure on just new moms in general in this world to get back and get back out there. And I totally agree with you. In retrospect, I would have been like, girl, extend your training. Like, your baby is only a newborn one time.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: But I think that you raise a good point and that we are all type a physicians and it’s really hard for us to kind of get off the path that we’ve laid out for ourselves. And at least for me at the time, the thought of extending my residency felt like a failure. Like, right, I’m doing well in residency, I’m meeting all my milestones, I’m a great resident. Why would I have to extend my residency?

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Program director is annoyed because they would have to redo all the months and all that.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: And of course, as a woman in medicine, I don’t want to raise a ruckus. I don’t want to make it harder for people. So I’m going to take the shortest time that I can off and then go right back into my sicku rotation second year, which I truthfully have very little memory of because it was all a, sleep deprived, miserable haze that is the pressures we place on ourself, but also just kind of all of these external pressures as women in medicine that make it really challenging.

Going back to work after childbirth can be challenging for breastfeeding moms

Dr. Jaime Seeman: And then, did you breastfeed with your baby?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: I did with all three, which is another process.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Tell us about your experience.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So it was far easier by my second and third child, obviously. I think kind of once you figure out how to do it, once your body figures out how to do it, it’s easy. But I really struggled with my first child, and then going back to work at five and a half weeks before we really had a good kind of solidified breastfeeding relationship was really challenging. but it’s really hard. It’s really painful. No one tells you how to do it. You’re just expected to kind of figure it out. And then again, I think with the kind, of type a personality that comes with being a physician, a lot of moms can get really in their head and really wrapped up and really anxious about breastfeeding. And there’s this kind of constant anxiety of are you making enough ounces? How many ounces are in the fridge? How many are in the freezer? Did I pump enough on this shift to make up for what he’s going to need at daycare tomorrow? And it’s this constant mental math of are you doing enough? Are you making enough? That I think is really stressful and really challenging. and for me, it was really hard going back to residency, trying to figure out how to pump. We did not have a pump room in the emergency department.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Ask. I don’t want to call out your institution, but I remember pumping in bathroom stalls and in weird closets. It was like, where can I find an outlet? Because these days my patients bring in these pumps and they’re like, God, I don’t know, bluetooth battery packs, like all the things. And I feel like I’m aging myself. When I say back in the day, I had to like, but it wasn’t.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Like, my oldest is nine. It wasn’t that long ago, but at the time, and it’s better now. It is. Thankfully, things I think are improving. but when I was a resident, we did not have a dedicated pumping room. So I pumped in patient rooms in the trauma call room with just the trauma team around me, hanging out, in closets, wherever, in my car, a lot, in the cafeteria. I remember I was pumping during one of my first shifts back and I was in the trauma call room that was attached to the ER trauma center. It doesn’t have a lock, it has a code. So anyone who has the code can come in whenever they want. And I was just sitting there pumping happily. And in walks the entire trauma team, the attending, the residents, like 75 medical students. We all just make really awkward eye contact and then they slowly walked back out. that was fun as a second year er resident. but things are getting better for my second child. When I was, an attending at University of Chicago, they had a wonderful leave policy. They have twelve weeks of paid parental leave for new moms, new dads, new adoptive parents, which is truly wonderful. It’s how it should be everywhere.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: That’s fantastic.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. And they had a beautiful pump room in the emergency department, so that was really a great experience coming back after that. And I’d done it before, so it was a lot easier. and then for my third as an attending, zero paid maternity leave. It really is just interesting how the.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Variety that different places offer and it is such a grab bag.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes. but by my third, I had enough knowledge to know to take the full twelve weeks unpaid, which sucked, but we were able to figure it out. yeah.

How much time off did your husband take? He’s a physician too

Dr. Jaime Seeman: How much time off did your husband take? He’s a physician too, and maybe there’s guys listening that are wondering, maybe their wife’s expecting. I’m interested to hear about that too.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Totally. So for our first, he was also a resident. so he got two days off and then. Two days? Yes. A very generous 48 hours and then.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: 48 hours delivery, let alone get home and get settled.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: And I had two days. After I had Sam, my husband had to go take his in training exam, his ite, which was the day I think we got discharged from the hospital. so we get home and then off he goes to take his ite, having not slept at all, because we just delivered a baby. so that was fun. And then he went right back to work. I think they gave him an easier rotation, in my memory, right after we had it. But he still went, right back after we had our son. when I had my second, my husband was a fellow and he took two weeks off, which was better than two days. And then for our third, he got a month of paid lead leave. So he actually got more paid leave.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: It got worse for you in some ways.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Exactly. Yeah, we swapped positions.

You both work full time as physicians in Philadelphia. Now you’re both in practice

Dr. Jaime Seeman: So tell us a little bit about your life. Now you’re both in practice. how do you juggle the dynamics of his shift, your shifts? The kids tell us kind of how that works.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: I think part of it, everyone asks how we find balance, how we manage it all, how we juggle it all. And I think part of it is we have to learn to accept daily failure in trying to balance everything, which may sound a little too zen, but kind of helps me conceptualize. so we both work full time. I am a full time er attending physician and I’m one of the assistant program directors for the residency. So a lot of academic work and clinical work. And then my husband works full time as an academic physician. Does a lot of research, a lot of teaching. Luckily, his schedule is far more regular than mine, which makes things, a little bit easier. So he works probably on average, 07:00 a.m. 07:30 a.m. Until five or 06:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, but then has every weekend off. whereas my schedule, obviously, in the emergency room is constantly changing, days, nights, evenings. Like this week, I worked eleven a to nine p, then three p to eleven p, then four p to one a. So it’s constantly changing. to make it work, we pretty much just hemorrhage money at childcare. I imagine one day when my kids are older, it will be a slower trickle of money going out. But that may be idealistic thing.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: It’ll probably just be trickling somewhere else. Let’s be honest.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: It’ll still be hemorrhaging just in a different direction. but. So right now we have a full time nanny who is a wonderful human. She’s been with us since my middle child was six months old. He’s turning six this weekend. So she’s been a part of our family for a very long time. Ah. And she is wonderfully flexible. She’ll come at 06:30 a.m. In the mornings when I work night shift, or when I work at 07:00 a.m. She’ll come later in the evenings. So she’s a true blessing for our family. my daughter is in preschool, half day preschool. My boys are now in elementary school, which is a little bit easier. and they go to the public school in Philadelphia, which is lovely. then we have a whole host of after school activities to fill in, the missing hours.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: I totally sympathize with that. We have, like, days of the week where we got three kids in three locations all at the same time. And my husband’s going one place and I’m going another, and then I’ll get called in for a delivery. So I feel like sometimes we’re just flying by the seat of our pants.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes. It’s almost a daily occurrence where it’s like my husband and I will pass each other and then finally, at the end of the day, we’ll be like, oh, hello, I haven’t seen you all day. How are you doing? Because we’re just taking kids to wrestling, to gymnastics, to art all over the place.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: I hate to paint the picture that you just breeze through having these kids and that life is great. And were there any really big struggles for you as far as we don’t talk about postpartum depression. Were there big hurdles that you had to overcome in that regard?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So I think, luckily for me, pregnancy, all of my pregnancies, were very easy. my mom always says that we are irish peasant stock, and we’re meant to have 13 kids in our family. That was, thankfully, very easy. I truthfully did not struggle with postpartum depression or anxiety, but just overwhelming fatigue after my first. And I don’t know if that’s, like, a mild form of postpartum depression, but truly, I think just going back to residency so soon afterwards, it really is a daze. I don’t have many firm memories of my second year of m ah, residency because I think I was just in this state of constant, extreme sleep deprivation.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah, just like a constant, aroused state. It’s like when you’re home, you’re taking care of the baby, when you’re at work.

For my sanity, I pay for a cleaning lady who comes every week

one thing I talk about all the time with my husband is just decision fatigue with the kids and with work and with that. And so tell us how you have a nanny that’s helping. But tell us how you and your husband strategize, maybe getting some of those things off your plate as well, like who’s doing the dishes, who’s doing your laundry, who’s doing the life things that have to happen.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So part of it, I really am just throwing money at a lot of my problems right now. which may not be the best financial strategy. one day, I’ll have our retirement account and all of those nice things. but right now, for my sanity, I pay for a cleaning lady who comes every week. She is a lifesaver. She does our laundry, which is the best thing that ever happened to me when I realized I could pay someone to do my laundry and I did not have to fold clothes anymore. and for me, right now, at this stage in my life, the money is worth it. For my peace of mind, that is a wonderful investment. That being said, I have three kids. I live in a teeny city row home. We live in the historic part of Philadelphia in a very small house with three kids and a 100 pound lab puppy who just turned a year. My house is just constantly filthy, and I have kind of learned to accept it, although it does bother me a lot. But I think at this stage, things you have to let go. One of the small daily failures that I have had to accept.

Female physicians say delegating tasks can help them thrive with busy schedules

Dr. Jaime Seeman: we’ve had other female physicians on the podcast, and I think it’s always good to hear people’s perspective. I think outsiders looking in like, oh, that’s nice that doctors have money, that they can pay someone to do their laundry. But I think when you really think about it, time is money. And if that gives you time to spend with your children and to create time for yourself, whether it’s like a working out or doing yoga or whatever other things bring you joy, I think that delegating those tasks is really important and probably allows you to thrive with the schedule and the life that you guys lead.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. The only way that I could be a good mother and a good doctor is to offload some of these tasks that inevitably fall on the women. And being able to offload those has helped me preserve what sanity I have left. I always kind of look at it as is what I am paying less than what I make hourly, and if it is less than what I make hourly, then I can justify it by picking up an extra shift or working a little bit of overtime. and in my head, that makes the math work out a little bit better.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah.

How do physicians prevent burnout as they juggle parenting and medical work

Okay, so you worked last night and here you are recording a podcast now today. So first of all, thank you. but talk to me a little bit about how you address kind of resiliency and how you try to really prevent burnout, because I think burnout is such a common thing amongst not only physicians, but physician moms, and dads too.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Totally. And it is something that I don’t know if I have a good answer for because I think it’s a continuous kind of work in progress. So, today I worked until 01:00 a.m. Got home around 02:00 a.m. Went to sleep, got up this morning at 730, got my three kids to school, took the dog on a long walk, and now here I am. and probably. Is that a good balance today? No, but I have this whole weekend off. I have my six year old’s birthday party tomorrow that we’re really excited for. we’re going to a pool party on Sunday. So I know that I have recovery time, so I’m okay having one day of sleep deprivation. Normally, for me, part of my wellness I am not. Shockingly, for an emergency room doctor, I do not function well on little sleep, so preserving my sleep has been a big priority for me, especially as I get older. and so I oftentimes will schedule my nanny to come early in the morning if I work a late overnight shift, so that I can guarantee I get seven and a half to 8 hours of sleep because I know that’s what I need to function, and to be a good mom and a good doctor. so I think for me, at least part of my wellness is recognizing what I need to do to keep myself physically and mentally well. and sleep has become a big priority. Like, you said, working out is hugely important, and it’s probably an underrated way of preserving our sanity. so I’m an avid pelotoner. I have the bike. I have the tread. I love it. and that’s nice because it’s in my house, so I don’t have a lot of excuses for barriers. Exactly. Less barriers and less opportunities for me to say, oh, I don’t have time to go today. It’s in my basement. I definitely have time to go today.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah, same thing. I had a middle of the night delivery. I was up all week. I texted my partner yesterday. I was like, hey, by the way, when I get home, I’m going to bed 2 hours early tonight just to catch up and kind of reset. And I think it’s so important to kind of understand where your limitations are. It can be so easy to just be pressured into go, go. and my kids, it’s funny, I don’t know. I think they kind of get it, too. They know when I’ve been up all night and they’re like, oh, hey, mom, can I help you with anything? It’s a family thing. I know they want my love and attention, too, but, they know that we’re providing for the family, and we all just try to support ourselves the best we can.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. It is my kids. It is shocking. Kids are more flexible and more understanding, I think, than people recognize, your energy.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: I mean, they feel it. They’re living it.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. Even my four year old knows that when I work late, mommy sometimes needs to sleep a little later. And she’s fine with that, because then later that day, we’ll have a mommy mini date, or we’ll go to her gymnastics class. And it’s all about balance. of course, that doesn’t take away from the mom guilt. My kindergartner just this past week looked at me, I was taking him to school, and he goes, mommy, why can’t you take me to school and pick me up every day like the other mommies do? And I was like, oh, God, kid, like, twist the dagger in my heart a little bit more.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah. There’s only one day a week that I can, pick up my kids. It’s usually on Fridays when I’m out of the clinic. And I really try to make sure that I can do that because they love it. But honestly, I kind of like it, too, because it just gives me that one day a week where I feel like I’m just like the other moms and dads. I can pull up in the pickup line and let them jump in and hear about their day. And, it’s just like, the perfect amount for me. I do not think I could be a stay at home mom. I know myself and my limits. I could not do it. God bless the people that do that, and provide for their family in that way. but it’s, like, just enough balance for me to do it here and there, 100%.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: It’s like you said, at the end of all of my maternity leaves, I was ready to go back to work because I like to use that side of my brain. I find I take a lot of meaning and a lot of joy in my work, and I would be a God awful stay at home mother. I don’t have the temperament for that. I don’t think I have the type of patience that you need for that.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: I always joke when it comes to school projects like making Valentine’s boxes or doing, I’m like, no, I’ll donate $20. What do I have to do to not do that?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: At the beginning of every year, I make sure we send a nice donation to the class parents, and that’s another area that I will throw money at the problem, because I am not going to make Pinterest Valentine’s day.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah, I hear you.

When I went into residency, I assumed I would be community emergency medicine doctor

Okay, so you and your husband both work in academic medicine?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: You always wanted to work in academics. Is that just kind of how things fell out? Tell me about that experience.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: When I went into residency, I assumed I would be a community emergency medicine doctor and work in a nice suburban hospital and just kind of do my shifts, make my money, go home. and then when I was in residency, I really fell in love with working at the urban trauma center, working for an underserved population, but really as an emergency medicine doctor, it’s where I feel I can do the most good, because we are often the only point of access in the healthcare system for our patients, especially in the hospital in north Philadelphia where I currently work. And much to my own surprise, because, again, I was planning on doing community emergency medicine in a nice, rich suburb somewhere, I found that I took a lot more satisfaction working in these kind, ah, of environments, and that led me to discover my love for education and my love for teaching and my love for residents. just kind of ended me up where I am today. And my husband always wanted to do academics. He loves teaching. He did his master’s in health education. He’s passionate about academics and about education.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: That’s fantastic, because we need people teaching the next generation of doctors.

Emergency medicine has gotten kind of a bad rep recently

give us an idea for somebody listening that is not sure what area of medicine they want to go into. What is it like being an emergency room doctor? What’s your shift like? What kind of things are you seeing? What do you love and what do you not like about your shifts and your job? Some days?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. So I think, emergency medicine has gotten kind of a bad rep recently, so I always love the chance to hype it up because it is an amazing specialty and it gives me the opportunity to be a mom and a doctor and find balance for both. I know that we did horribly in the match last year and that there was a concerning job report about emergency medicine, but it is still a wonderful, amazing career. I love doing shift work, as tiring as it is. I love that I can be the class mom in the morning and then go work an evening shift and I can chaperone my son’s field trip to the library and then work a weekend shift. and that, as silly as that sounds, it really does work for my schedule. we have a very flexible schedule. I can request off whatever times I want. So if I know the winter concert is going to be at noon on a Wednesday, I can request that off and do an extra evening shift. so for me, it’s really worked, mainly because my husband has a more regular schedule to kind of balance all those evenings and weekends that I work.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Right.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: as for what a typical shift looks like, for me, that is one of the reasons why I love emergency medicine, because there is no typical shift. It is completely different. It is exciting. Every day, every shift, I have something that makes me scratch my head and go, oh, didn’t see that one coming. which I love. A lot of emergency medicine doctors, we get bored easily. We have a little bit of add, most of us. and we like constant stimulation, constant excitement, not knowing what we’re going to get. I know when I was in medical school, I hated all of my outpatient clinic rotations. I found them draining and just painful, looking at the schedule and seeing seven pap smears or whatever, eight hypertension checks, and I could never do that. but my husband does outpatients, and he loves it. So it’s interesting how we all kind of find our place in the house of medicine.

When I got to medical school, I really wanted to do plastic surgery

Dr. Jaime Seeman: How did you decide on emergency medicine? Was there any other area you were considering or. That kind of spark was lit and that was the path?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: No. When I got to medical school, I really wanted to do plastic surgery. that is what I thought I was going to do. I did a lot of research. I did electives. and then I had a moment, third year after I had started my eras application, planned my fourth year schedule, nailed the boards, did everything I was supposed to do. I went back and did another rotation in the OR, and I had this moment where I was standing there, no offense, it was my gynonk rotation. And I was standing there holding the uterine sounder with my arm over the patient’s leg in the same position for like 5 hours, a million hours, it felt like. And I just had this realization that I hated it and I hated being in the operating room. And I did not like that. I could not go pee and I really wanted a cup of coffee, and I did not want to have that feeling every day for the rest of my life.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So I really had a crisis kind of at the end of my third year, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I’d been set on doing surgery, and fortunately, I had my peds rotation right after that, and did two weeks of pedzm, as part of that rotation, and really fell in love with the emergency department there. So it was a very end of medical school choice for me. and then I scrambled, got away rotations, pulled it together, and thankfully succeeded in the match. but it was a very chaotic period.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: I think that’s important for people to hear because I went into medical school the very first day of medical school, during the white coat ceremony, they have you make a prediction of what you’re going to do. And I actually wrote down emergency medicine. I mean, I grew up, like, watching er and George Clooney, and I knew I liked that fast paced, kind of like, go, go. So I was like, oh, it’s totally going to be the emergency room. And as I went through my medical school and my rotations, my mother, who was, she was not a doctor, but she was in healthcare administration, she said, I don’t care what you do, just don’t be an obstetrician, gynecologist. And she just thought it was like, poor quality of life. You’re not going to be able to be a mom. So as I kind of went through, I actually, totally opposite of you. I fell in love with surgery. I loved the operating room. I hated clinic. I hated sitting there just talking to people. And, so then I was like, okay, well, what kind of surgeon do I want to be? And do I want to do plastics or. I trained at a huge transplant center. Do I want to do this or that? Well, then I went on my OBgyN rotation and I would come home and I was loving everything I was reading, and I liked that there was surgery and clinic and birth and labor is like happy medicine. It was like a nice pivot from the doom and gloom of oncology and telling people they were dying. and so I had to walk up to my mom and I was like, I think I want to be an obgyn, but I kind of decided late, too. And then, yeah, you kind of in this panic mode of figuring out how am I going to structure my fourth year. But I think it’s good for people to hear that sometimes you don’t know what you want to do until you get in there and get your hands dirty and figure out whether you like surgery or don’t like surgery or you like clinical medicine or private practice versus academic versus. There’s just so many options on how your job and career can turn out. And even then, you can go back, you can do fellowships, you can really make your life be what you want it to be. You’re not stuck just because you thought you wanted to do something. so it’s kind of funny seeing people’s predictions because on graduation day, they gave our envelopes back to us and we got to read what our prediction was and what really happened. And very, a few people knew it. They knew they wanted to be a neurosurgeon or whatever it was. And many of them, it was something completely different.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Totally. It is. I do think that ob and emergency medicine are probably the most similar, because we are both very high paced, there’s a lot of quick decision making. and it’s never boring. So I think it is similar personality types go into those two fields, and.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: In my field, we’re really seeing a shift. you said you like shift work. We’re really kind of seeing a shift in obstetrics, in particular to more laborist models where people are working just an eight or ten or twelve hour shift on labor and delivery. instead of how my group does it, the traditional model of you work clinic and you come in for all your deliveries and you do, and I’m making it work. And I do love that because I love the relationship aspect of obstetrics, which, when I was thinking about emergency medicine, I was always kind of sad that you never knew what happened with the patient. You saved their life or did whatever, and then they get admitted, and then you never know what happened to them. so, I love my job. I do. I would totally do it again, over and over. And, that’s what’s cool about medicine, is you get to decide what excites you and what doesn’t.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. And I think we do have a really great opportunity in medicine to constantly reinvent ourselves. I have friends in emergency medicine who have gone back ten years after residency and done a fellowship in palliative care or in addiction medicine, and then completely switch courses and do more clinic work or go into research pharma. we have a lot of flexibility that a lot of other career paths don’t offer, which I think is great.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah.

Do your children want to be doctors? No, none of them

Do your children want to be doctors?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: No, none of them. My oldest wants to be a video game designer. He’s set on that. Yeah. Reasonable. my middle is grossed out by anything remotely medical. his sister had a GI bug the other week and threw up. And I find Henry just cowering under the dining room table because he’s so scared of vomit. so he currently wants to be a construction worker. And Amelia, the four year old, the diva, wants to be a lion or a tiger when she grows.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Love the. I love the perspective of children. yeah. My oldest, I could see her going into medicine. She’s very much like me, in the classroom and just her personality, but she’s a little squeamish with blood, so I’m not really sure unless she comes around in that regard, that she might do it. and my middle daughter wants to be a veterinarian, which you mentioned that, too. I shadowed a veterinarian when I was an undergrad and watched a few surgeries and things like that. And I did enjoy veterinary medicine, but then decided in the end, I like treating humans more than animals, because they talk.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: I worked as a vet tech. It was my first job. I worked from 16 all through all of my college breaks, at an animal hospital. Loved it. It was an amazing first job. It really got me into medicine. but I realized I felt really bad for the dogs because they didn’t understand why we were doing what we were doing to them. that kind of turned me into human medicine.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah. And then I love your answer for your third one, because my third child is kind of the same way. She’s like, I don’t know. I’ll be a ballerina or a librarian. And the kid has never done a dance class ever.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: I’m like a professional ballerina. It could happen. You never know.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah, she’s just pulling things out of thin air. So it will be fun to see what they end up pursuing, because I think I did not grow up in a. I don’t know what your parents did for a living, but, my mom was involved in healthcare. She was a nurse and then got into healthcare administration, and my dad did, like, sales, and so there was no doctors in my family. And, I’m really, honestly, the first medical physician, as far as I ever know, in my family.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah, same. My mom was also a nurse. it’s now a social worker. my parents are divorced, so mainly my mom growing up. but, yeah, I’m the first doctor in the family. My husband comes from a long line of physicians and lawyers, but for me, it was, very much kind of figure out the journey as it happened.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah. And that’s what is so cool, is you can, in any profession, you always have the ability to change and pivot and make life what you want it to be.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. I’m very happy I ended up where I am, though. Some days I hate my job, when I am tired and when the waiting room has 45 people in it and there’s no beds in the hospital, and we’re boarding 22 admitted patients, and everyone’s mad, and we can’t do anything. And on those days, I hate emergency medicine, but most days, it’s always up.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: and always downs. But I feel like with time, you get enough of those good interactions, it keeps you coming back.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes. Although recently in the emergency department, with Flu and RSV and COVID and everything surging is, the positive interactions have been few and far between, but you got to grab onto them when you can.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah, it’s that season for sure.

Dr. Abramoff was the first of her medical school friends to have children

Well, Dr. Abramoff, any last pieces of advice for people listening that are on a pathway in medicine? Thinking about being a mom?

Dr. Claire Abramoff: So I think, looking back, I was the first of my group of friends from medical school to have a child. I kind of lapped all of my friends by almost two children. Most of them started having children around when I had my third child. so for me, it was a really kind of interesting perspective. It was a little lonely being the first one to have a child. None, of my co residents had kids when I did. none of my friends from medical school had kids when I did. It was hard and now my friends, now that they’re having babies, we all get together. We send them uber eats gift cards, we send them meals, we send them gifts. and this is not blaming, but no one did that when I had my kid. And I think it’s because no one knew that it was really hard having a child.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: You can help.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yeah. And I think, obviously, we now know that we’re older, we’re attendings, we all have kids, we know how to support people in the postpartum period. but it was hard being kind of the only person with a child in my immediate group.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: But it is nice now that I am still early, mid career attending and my kids are a little bit older, and I’m out of that newborn stage and getting more flexibility, and we can start traveling again, and we can have fun vacations, and my kids sleep through the night, and no one’s in diapers.

The question often comes up of when is the right time to have a child

So I think the question often comes up of when is the right time to have a child. And I bet you have a different perspective, too, having had one in medical school. But I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong time. I think it’s hard no matter when you do it in medicine. I think there are, like, we talked about different maternity leave policies and different challenges at the different stages. but I don’t think there’s a right or a wrong time. So I would say if you want to have a kid, don’t wait. Have a kid. If you want to wait, that’s not wrong. Wait.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: As soon as it feels right in your heart, that’s the right time, and you will figure it out. And you can still be an amazing doctor and a, great spouse, and you’re going to need more support. But I totally agree with you. There is never a good time. So when it feels right, just do it.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Exactly. I feel a lot of people that I know kind of got trapped into, I can’t have a kid in residency. It’s the worst idea ever. It’ll ruin my training. And then they wait, and then maybe they have fertility problems or maybe it’s more challenging. and obviously, that’s not their fault. That’s just what ended up happening. But I think there is this pressure on us to wait until we’re done with training to have our kids, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the right thing.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah. Honestly, I’m glad I had them early in my training because when they were young, they have no memory of that chaos.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Exactly.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah. Now we enjoy life. And when they can start driving, that will be just a whole nother load of pressure off me and my husband. So, each stage has its struggles.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes. And I was so worried as a resident that I was damaging my son because he was in the hospital daycare from 06:30 a.m.. M until 06:00 p.m. And I was like, oh, gosh, he’s going to have mommy issues. He’s going to hate me. I’m a horrible mom now. He’s nine. He has no memory of that. He is a joy. He is a wonderful human who has very healthy relationships with all of us, has good friends. So, looking back, I wish I could tell resident me that it’s okay that he’s in daycare, that you’re not failing as a mom. He’s going to be fine.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Yeah. Cannot agree more. Well, Dr. Abramoff, thank you so much for your time. We’re going to let you go sleep and rest and recover so that you can come back and do this again tomorrow. Enjoy the birthday party this weekend. those big life events are so important. So thank you so much for your time.

Dr. Claire Abramoff: Yes, thank you for having me. And today’s a half day, so I get to leave and go pick the kids up right away. There’s no rest for the weary. Good job, mama.

Dr. Jaime Seeman: Good job. Thanks for listening to today’s episode. I hope you enjoyed it. We really appreciate you sharing it with all your friends, leaving your comments and questions, and of course, liking and subscribing. We’ll catch you on the next episode of the Strong MD podcast.