Medical School Life

Starting your family in medical school: 5 things to consider

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

The timing was far from perfect, but the results have been well worth it.

That’s what Rommel Cruz Morales, a fourth-year medical student at Northeast Ohio Medical University, said when reflecting on becoming a parent as a first-year medical student—which also happened to coincide with the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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When reflecting on the birth of his daughter, Maisyn, in 2020, Morales said the period “was wrought with managing adjustments across all parts of our lives. Even from the start, we had to deal with a traumatic birth and a long stay in the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit]. Thinking back, I can remember the blur of going to classes in the morning, going to the hospital for our induction right after, and a whirlwind of snapshots—reading stories in the NICU, wheeling my wife back to her hospital room, and staying up in the late hours catching up on emails and trying to study before having to wake up a couple hours later.”

Now a father of two—Morales and his wife, Kathryn, had a son (Damien) in January 2023—Morales’ journey as a medical student parent isn’t altogether uncommon.

While precise data on the number of medical student parents is unavailable, a figure from the Association of American Medical Colleges’ 2023 Medical School Graduation Questionnaire sheds some light on the prevalence of parenthood among future doctors. When asked “How many dependents do you have (not including a spouse or partner)?” roughly 4% medical students said one, 2% said two and 0.4% said three. The word “dependent,” however, isn’t exclusive to children.

For medical students who are considering having a child during medical school, Morales, an AMA member offered a few tips.

Rommel Morales and family
Rommel Morales holding his daughter, Maisyn, with wife Kathryn and the couple’s son Damien.

As both a father and medical student, Morales has found that time management is paramount. And when push comes to shove, his mantra is: Family first.

Morales’ days are full of excitement, obligations and surprises as he must balance “between daycare drop-offs, dance recitals, shelf exams, research projects, and committee and chair positions across medical societies,” said Morales, who is speaker of the AMA Medical Student Section. “Above all things, I'm a husband and father first—and a medical student second.”

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With Kathryn working full-time as a product manager for a major laboratory testing company while Rommel goes through medical training, the Morales’ have been fortunate to rely on family for a helping hand. 

“My wife's family lives in Northeast Ohio and we've been lucky to have their support, particularly during my second and third year of medical school when they could babysit a day or two in the week,” Rommel said. “Their support during this period was really appreciated.” 

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Part of parenting is that one must expect the unexpected. Even as the Morales family has transitioned to moving their children to daycare, kids gets sick. Clinical schedules, Morales said, also can vary.

“Every month tends to be a different balance, as the expectation varies between my clinical schedule and Kathryn’s professional projects,” he said. “For example, right now I'm approaching my overnight shifts on my ob-gyn subinternship, and we're planning our week where she'll need to take on more of the evening childcare.

“At our busiest times, we prioritize things as they appear, using whatever free time to handle the most urgent things as quickly as possible. If I know my wife has had a rough day, I'll let her sleep while I handle all the shopping, food prep, housework, etc.—and she does the same for me.”

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Having spent almost a decade as a graduate student and researcher prior to entering medical school, Morales entered medical school at age 33, a bit older than most of his medical student peers. With Kathryn also being 31 at the time of his training commencing, the two knew they didn’t want to wait for the completion of his training to start their family.

“I matriculated much later than traditional applicants,” he said. “My wife and I understood that having children during this period would be challenging, but it was the right time for us. I've always said that if you wait for the perfect time to do something, you may never do it at all. Sometimes you need to jump and build the parachute on the way down.”

The days spent studying and bottle feeding in turn can be taxing, but Morales and his wife are glad they started their family when they did.

“Despite the challenges, I have no regrets whatsoever,” he said. “There are times when it can be very difficult, but the rewards make it all worth it. I highly encourage other students to self-reflect and communicate with their partners to align their goals before they embark on the journey of parenthood.”

The AMA Succeeding in Medical School series offers tips and other guidance on a wide range of critical topics, including preparing for USMLE exams, navigating clinical rotations, publishing scientific research, and maintaining optimal health and wellness.