Being a Doctor and a Mother During the Pandemic
A California OBGYN on what moms need to thrive as physicians.
May 6, 2021
As a physician and a mother, life has always been a juggling act for Dr. Dina Vaynberg, but the pandemic has intensified the struggle, making her grateful she made the decision a year ago to seek out a new job.
If she hadn’t, she says, she and her physician husband would still be in an environment where she didn’t feel supported as a working mom — where long hours were expected, flexible scheduling was nonexistent and call coverage wasn’t available.
“I’m so thankful we made the decision to prioritize our happiness and choose a location and health system that worked for our family when we did,” she says. “Even though things are still hard with COVID, our colleagues know we have young kids, and they are so supportive of us.”
Dr. Vaynberg is an Obstetrician-Gynecologist at Providence Medical Group in Santa Rosa, California, and her husband is an Internal Medicine physician at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. The couple began searching for new jobs in early 2020, just before the pandemic swept the country.
“Make sure you can have a flexible schedule, speak up and ask about that in your interviews. Prioritize what’s important. Live where you want to live, where you feel your family will be happy.”
They looked at jobs across the Pacific Northwest but talking with Provider Solutions & Development Recruiter Patti Olson felt different, Dr. Vaynberg says.
“Patti really listened to me and picked up on what I was saying,” she says. “She convinced me to look at the Santa Rosa job. She felt it would fit me better than some of the other positions I was looking at. And it turns out she was right.”
Patti says getting to know Dr. Vaynberg was key to zeroing in on a practice and location where she’d be happy, both on and off the job.
“Dina told me she and her husband had gone on a wine tasting trip to Santa Rosa a few years ago and loved it,” Patti says. “I also knew a family-oriented community was important to them, and that they loved to travel. Santa Rosa is this great central location an hour from San Francisco and from Napa. It also has excellent schools and an airport.”
All Things to All People
The young couple and their two boys, ages 2 and 4, made the move from the Midwest to Northern California in November 2020, finding a warmer climate, gorgeous scenery and a welcoming community.
Like many doctors who are parents, one of their biggest issues during the pandemic has been childcare. When California’s COVID surge hit, they pulled their boys from daycare and arranged schedules so one parent was always home, with occasional help from a nanny. Dr. Vaynberg says she’s lucky her husband works a 7-on, 7-off schedule.
“He’s been daddy daycare,” she says, laughing. “And my partners at work have been super understanding of when I need to adjust my hours to cover a gap.”
Being a mother during the pandemic has been tough, Dr. Vaynberg says. She feels that women physicians face pressures and issues their male counterparts don’t.
“I read about it and hear it all the time,” she says. “Physician moms feel like they have to be all things to all people. You have to be not only the parent, but the teacher and the cook and do all the housework too. At the same time, we’ve lost childcare options, so you can’t ask grandma or grandpa for help, because you don’t want to get them sick. You end up doing less self-care and a lot more worrying.”
Dr. Vaynberg isn’t alone. A 2021 report by Medscape on Physician Lifestyle and Happiness found that 42% of female physicians said they were “conflicted” or “very conflicted” balancing medical work and parental demands compared to just 23% of male physicians. The same report found that only 28% of female physicians report spending time on wellness “always” or “most of the time” compared to 39% of male physicians.
What Physician Moms Need
Dr. Vaynberg says she hopes some positive changes come out of the pandemic, particularly in the form of systemic support for female physicians.
In 2019, for the first time, women outnumbered men in U.S. medical schools, at 50.5% of those enrolled, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. And while overall, male doctors still outnumber female doctors, that may be shifting. A 2017 AthenaHealth survey found that 60% of doctors younger than 35 were women.
“I wish all health systems could be like mine, and that female physicians would be supported if they decide to have children,” Dr. Vaynberg says. “The biggest need that could be met is on-site childcare. That would make a massive difference.”
Dr. Vaynberg says her advice to a new physician mom would be to prioritize finding a job that fits her family needs as well as her professional goals.
“You can’t have everything,” she says. “So let go of that. But you can find a job that checks most of your boxes. My advice would be to not stay in a job that you know isn’t working for you. Don’t be afraid to make that decision to leave.
“Make sure you can have a flexible schedule, speak up and ask about that in your interviews. Prioritize what’s important. Live where you want to live, where you feel your family will be happy. Being a doctor and a mom can be tough, but when you’re in the right role in the right city, it can work beautifully.”
In the image above, Dr. Dina Vaynberg, an Obstetrician-Gynecologist at Providence Medical Group, and her husband share a happy moment with their sons in Santa Rosa, California.