“I think it's just important to decide what you want in your career and decide what you want in your personal life, and not let one stop you from achieving your goals in the other. Because you just need to make the decision and then figure out all the details later, you can make it work.” - Dr. Andrea Copeland
In this episode, we chat with Dr. Andrea Copeland, a recent graduate of the Plastic Surgery residency program at McMaster University. We talk about her experience having children during residency, starting a new fellowship in Australia and the supportive circle she has.
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Dr. Andrea Copeland, M.D.
Radha Sharma: Welcome to season 1 episode 19 of Family Planning for Docs - Thriving or Surviving. This podcast is an extension of our platform at www.familyplanningfordocs.com, a website created for Canadian medical trainees to highlight useful information about family planning in a medical career. Our group has a mission to inform medical trainees about their options regarding family planning while navigating training, career and personal life. Our research has demonstrated that personal stories are really impactful, and we hope to provide access to a diverse number of stories, to all our current trainees. On our podcast, we hope to capture the stories of professionals who have navigated the training process and a career while planning parenthood, parenting and the supports along the way. In this episode we have Dr. Andrea Copeland. We are thrilled to have you on our podcast today and thank you on behalf of our entire team for taking the time to share your story here.
Andrea Copeland: Hi, there. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be part of this
Radha Sharma: Awesome. So the first question is pretty easy. What does a day in the life of Andrea look like?
Andrea Copeland: So you've kind of caught me in this strange transition period. So my husband and I, he's an orthopedic surgeon, we both just finished our residencies and wrote our exams and so we are waiting for our fellowships to start. We're going to Australia in 3 weeks for our fellowships and so right now, we're actually just doing some surgical assisting to bridge the gap. And we've got our 2 kids. One is 3 and one is 7 months. And so we’re just spending some time with them.
Radha Sharma: So you mentioned that your husband is an orthopedic surgeon and you are a plastic surgeon, am I right?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah.
Radha Sharma: Can you walk us through the training process for how to get to where you are now?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So both plastic surgery and orthopedics are 5 year training programs. So we did our 5 years at McMaster. We actually did it in 6 years. I took 2 maternity leaves during that time, and my husband did a one year Master's degree. So we did it in just under 6 years, actually, which is why we finished a little early and had this this gap where we could do some this surgical assisting and then, after residency, the vast majority of plastic surgeons will do fellowship. Usually just one year on average and then for orthopedic surgery, I'd say almost, I would say a hundred percent of them go on to do fellowship, and so he'll be doing one year in Australia with me, and then we'll be coming back to Toronto, and he's doing a second fellowship in Toronto. And I should be done after Australia hopefully. Both being surgeons and you know, having kids like we don't really want to live apart. So if I need to do a fellowship just to make things work or if I decide that that's the best thing at that time then I'll do it. I'm pretty open to anything, you know, we do have to make some sacrifices being in our situation.
Radha Sharma: Yeah, that makes sense. We'll get into a little bit more about, you know maternity leave, and I'll definitely ask you questions about that as they come. Before we talk about that, though. I ask all my guests this just because I think it's important to get different perspectives on why some people prefer to have a family and others don't. What was your motivation for starting a family?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So we, I mean, we always knew we would have kids. We met actually in under second year of undergrad at Queens. So we've been together for 13 years now, 14 years. So we kind of knew we would probably get married in medical school. We both wanted kids. We knew that from the beginning, and we planned to probably start our family in residency. We both come from families that are very close. Dan has a large family. I only have one sibling, but we both are very close with their families, and we always knew that we wanted to start our own family. So it was just really about figuring out the timing of things. That was the only question for us.
Radha Sharma: And how did you figure out the timing? I know you mentioned you kind of knew you wanted to have kids in residency. What did that look like? What did family planning look like for both of you?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So we basically just decided we would have kids whenever we felt ready personally, and kind of ignored where we were in our training, in our career. We knew that, you know, coming from a family where both Dan’s parents are physicians, my dad's a physician. We kind of, in having conversations with them, we know that and other mentors as well, we know that there's not really a bad time to have kids or other people might say, there's no good time to have kids depending on your perspective. So we just decided when we felt ready from a personal point of view, career aside, that's when we would decide to have kids. So for us, once we finished our junior residency really. So I think at the end of second year we started, thinking about starting our family. So we ended up having, Reed was born at the end of third year, and then Naomi was born a few months before our Royal College, so in our fifth year.
Radha Sharma: How has that been having 2 small kids running around? Well, I guess the 7 month old wouldn't be running, but yeah.
Andrea Copeland: Almost crawling.
Radha Sharma: Almost crawling.
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. It's been good. It's really nice having a balance, I think, especially in chief year when we were studying, and everyone who's been through that knows that it's a hard year, it was really nice having a balance and and having something else that felt just as, or even more important than our exam really helped put things in perspective and kept us sane, I think, you know, obviously having a young family is crazy at times, and it's and it is insanity in itself, but just taking our minds off studying and having something else to focus on, really helped keep a good balance.
Radha Sharma: Can you talk about some of the supports that you've had while kind of balancing, you know, residency, while also having family, what supports have been integral for you?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So we definitely relied on support a lot, especially in our last year. So from the family perspective, all 4 of our parents are working. So we didn't really have like reliable child care from a grandparent perspective. but they were very helpful on weekends and sometimes in the evenings. Both of our families are within 1 to 2 hours drive so they would sometimes, especially before we had the baby, they would take our son for the full weekend so that we could study. And then, aside from that, we basically just filled the gaps, which was probably like 90%, with hired help. So we had a live in nanny for most of our residency. So when I went back to work with our first until she actually got sick and had to leave but we then replaced that with a live out nanny. And then that continued throughout our residency. We also, during our chief year, when we were studying, we had to hire more help because we needed help during the weekend, so that we could study. So at 1 point we did have 3 nannies, which was crazy. We had one that would come in the morning when we left for work so usually like 6:30 and then she would take Reed to school. And then we had a second nanny who would come in the afternoon, she would kind of help with house stuff, and then pick him up and be there for dinner, and just help her help with that, and then we would be with the kids, or at that time just him until bedtime. And then we had a third who would help us on the weekend. So it was definitely, we definitely relied on childcare a lot. It wouldn't have been possible without all that help to, you know, continue and thrive in residency, and also pass our exams. So that's how it looked for us.
Radha Sharma: How did you organize all the, I guess not just your schedules, because I can imagine that in residency things are just always crazy. How do you organize amongst yourself and your husband, and I guess, hired help as well?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So as residents especially, once we were considered, we started our senior resident in R3. So we had a little bit more control over our schedule. Not much, but at least we could decide if there was a conflicting call date one of us could switch with a friend, or we could, we could make it work so that we were never on call the same night. And then in terms of otherwise planning, when we had the live in nanny it was much easier because it was very flexible. She could work like in the morning, and then kind of be off during the day and then help us again in the evening. When it became really challenging was when we did not have a live in nanny, we had a live out nanny and multiple nannies where there's just a lot of scheduling and organizing, and mostly the most challenging part was when someone called in sick and not having a backup because our family is not next door. So that was hard. There are a couple of times where I had to take my son into round with me on the weekends and stuff like that. But it was few and far between. It didn't happen that often, but certainly I'd say that was one of the biggest challenges of having kids as a resident was just figuring out the child care and organizing it, and making sure that you can continue in a job where you don't really have that much control over your day to day life. But again, I know that having kids as a staff is not any easier, even though you do have control, canceling a clinic last minute is not easy. So I think that there's really just challenges, no matter when you do it which is why we decide to take the approach of ignoring where we were at with our own careers.
Radha Sharma: How was the environment like as a resident? Because I know, speaking to some physicians that, you know, went through this process, maybe 10 years ago, 15 years ago, compared to now, I've heard differences in what the culture was like. Can you talk a little bit about you know, what's the environment like as a recent graduate of residency?
Andrea Copeland: I would say it was very supportive. My program director, he has 4 kids. He's very family oriented and was super supportive, and excited that I decided to have kids in residency. So that was very helpful having his support. I would say also, almost like the majority of the staff, actually, I'd say all the staff were very supportive. And residents were very supportive, too. I never felt like that. I was being made to feel bad for going on that leaving, you know, even knowing that that meant - ours is a fairly large program, there's about 16 residents, 17 residents, so I think it's not that much more call for them for me to take mat leave because it's spread amongst all of them. But even knowing that there's one less person available, I didn't feel that they, you know, resented me for that at all. And our residency group is very close knit, so I didn't feel any lack of support from the staff or the residents. I think it was a bit challenging, in the sense that I was the first resident in our program to be a parent and a resident. So there was one resident previously who had a baby right at the end of her residency. But I was the first to kind of come back and come back from that leave and be a resident and have children. So it was a little bit challenging in terms of just figuring out the logistics of that. And people weren't familiar with that, but it was fine, and it just meant that I was paving the way a little bit. But it was very supportive during the whole whole process, and I know it wasn't always like that, so I'm very grateful that it is.
Radha Sharma: I'm honestly really glad to hear that you've had that experience. I think it'll be refreshing for people to hear, especially medical students or residents that are really early on in their training to hear that the culture has kind of shifted and depending on your program, people are more supportive or can provide those resources and mentorship to you.
Andrea Copeland: Yeah, for sure.
Radha Sharma: In terms of maternity leave, can you tell our audience a little bit about what the logistics behind that are? Are you granted a certain amount of time off? Do you have to ask for or request more time? How did your journey kind of look like with that?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So you can take 18 months just like anybody in Ontario. I would say I don't think the majority of residents take that much time. A lot of people take one year. It makes it a lot easier because you just go back one year, you're now with the next group, or next cohort of residents. A year is a nice amount of time to be off with your child. For me, Dan, and I had thought that we might have 2 kids in residency and I didn't want to go back more than a year. So we decided, with the first I would take 6 months. We actually had sponsored a nanny from overseas and she was gonna start after 6 months but then COVID happened, and my son was born April 2020. So it was right. right at the beginning of COVID. So she's still not here. It's like 5 years later, and she's still not here because there's such a backlog. So anyway, I had to extend it to find child care. So I ended up taking 9 months for the first and then for the second, I took 3 months, yeah, 3 months, although I was studying so it wasn't really, I had a lot of help, and it wasn't really like a mat leave. But that's how much time I took off residency the second time. So it ended up being one year total of mat leave however, in Ontario, at least, I think this is actually country-wide, you can apply for a waiver of training which for surgical residency, the maximum is 12 weeks. So I applied, you apply for it in your last year and essentially, if your program director deems that you are, you're gonna be competent. with 3 less months or 12 less weeks of residency, then they will grant you that waiver training. So instead of ending July first, I finished at the end of April which meant that I've had 2 months to, surgical assist, but just enjoy my kids and have more family time. So it's kind of been more of a mat leave the last couple of months which has been nice.
Radha Sharma: I didn't even know that the waiver of training existed
Andrea Copeland: You know what I didn't know, either. And then I started reading, and once I was trying to figure out the details of my mat leave and everything, and I came upon it, and I know that other people had more difficulty getting it approved at different schools and different programs. So very much is individual dependent but also program and school dependent. But it so happened that in my program there were actually 2 residents that had used it before me. One was that, the resident I had mentioned that had the baby right at the end. And then the other one was, for in order to start his fellowship on time, so there was a reason why he had to do it. So there kind of was a precedent set at my program. So I think that probably made it easier for my program director to approve me as long as he felt that I'd be ready to to finish, even though I had 12 weeks less of training.
Radha Sharma: Thank you for sharing all that about your own leave. I think it's helpful to hear how different people do it, because some people will take, you know, like you said 3 months and then other people take 9 months. And then for your husband, did he take any paternity leave at that time? Or yeah, how did that go?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So he had never planned on taking paternity leave, or at least nothing significant, maybe he would have taken a couple of weeks. He was finishing his Master’s when our son was born, and then I’m trying to think of why we ended up doing this, I think it was because there was like really nothing happening in the hospitals literally, and he felt that, we just felt that it was better if he took a month, or might have even been 2 months of paternity leave at the end of his Master’s.
Radha Sharma: Oh okay.
Andrea Copeland: I think it was actually just one month, and so he kind of extended his Master’s in a way. And we were actually living here at the cottage during that time, because Dan’s whole family was not work, or they were working from here like virtually it was a weird time, but anyway, it ended up being that he took one month pat leave the first time, and then the second time, I think he might have taken 2 weeks or something like that.
Radha Sharma: What's been the best part about being a parent to your lovely kids?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah, I think the best part is really just watching them grow and develop and at each different stage learning these things, seeing them or seeing the world through their eyes, through, just like such a naive, innocent child like it's just it's very enjoyable. And this age in particular, having young kids as a parent, you are their everything. And so it's just really nice having that special bond both as a baby and a toddler now for my son. So yeah, it's great. I love spending time with them.
Radha Sharma: And to all the listeners that are tuning in, Andrea has the biggest smile on her face. I know no one can see it right now, but that's so nice to hear, yeah, the growing and developing. What's been something that you've noticed has changed sort of as your child moves from being a baby to a toddler, what's been kind of some stuff that you've noticed that you didn't really think of before being a parent?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. So the relationship definitely changes now that he's like a little human who can talk and has emotions and you can reason with him. And it's totally different than having a baby. The baby phase is enjoyable because they're just so cute and squishy, and it is like adorable. The toddler phase comes with challenges, too, for sure, because those emotions come with really big feelings at times, and learning how to deal with those in the best way has been challenging. But I think it's really enjoyable to be able to just like hang out with him as like a person. So yeah, that's one of the bigger changes from baby to toddlerhood.
Radha Sharma: And, Andrea, if you did have a magic wand, let's say, and you could go back and change anything about, not just maybe your journey as a parent, but also, you know, as a medical trainee, would you change anything? If so, why, if not, why? It's a loaded question.
Andrea Copeland: No, I don't think I would. There's nothing that I think was a bad decision. Anything that you think is a bad decision ends up being a good decision in some other way. So I don't think that I would change anything. I would say that many people did tell me not to have kids in residency, and I don't regret it at all. It almost made me want even more, want to have kids in residency, to do it. Yeah, I really, I wouldn't change anything. I think that if I could go back and tell myself something, knowing what I know now it would be like just you know, there's gonna be a lot of things that you have to do like hiring a lot of help to make it work and that's okay. Like I definitely along the way, I had a lot of guilt I think feeling like I wasn't spending enough time with my kids. But now, looking at it from this perspective, we've finished our residency, have passed our exams. Now we're spending a lot of time with them, and it doesn't matter like our our relationships with them are so strong. It didn't matter that we spent so many hours away. So I think I would just tell myself not to feel so bad about it, and just do what you have to do to make it work.
Radha Sharma: Also congrats on passing by the way, I forgot to say that earlier.
Andrea Copeland: Oh yeah, no worries. Yeah, thank you. It feels good for sure.
Radha Sharma: And do you have any advice for medical trainees that might be watching or not watching, listening to our podcast today?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah, so I would, I agree with the classic advice, don't delay your life for your career. A lot of people say that and I think that that's really important. Our training is very long, and if you wait until you're done, you know, you might have challenges from a fertility perspective, and you might wish that you had just done it earlier when you realize that it's actually pretty hard doing it as a staff as well. And I think the flip side is also true, I don't think you should delay or let your personal life stop you from trying to achieve certain things in your career. We really wanted to go to Australia, for example, for a fellowship, and I think many people are, I know many people because they've told us, that they think we're crazy for, like moving across the country or across the globe with 2 kids but I think I don't know, I think it's just important to decide what you want in your career and decide what you want in your personal life, and not let one stop you from achieving your goals in the other because you just need to like, make the decision and then figure out all the details later, like you can make it work. Whether that means hiring lots of help, spending a lot of money which sucks, but it'll be fine in the end or whatever it is, I think, just don't let your personal life stop you from achieving what you want in your career, and vice versa.
Radha Sharma: Thank you for that sound advice Andrea. So our final question for today is, Andrea, are you currently thriving or surviving?
Andrea Copeland: Yeah. If you asked me like 3 months ago, it would have been, my answer would have been totally different. We were both studying for our Royal College. We're both residents. We had 2 kids. We had like 3 nannies. So life was very insane. And now it's so nice. I'm at the cottage. We're on vacation this week. We're just doing surgical assisting so there's no rounding, there's no in-patients. It's yeah, it's very different.
Radha Sharma: That’s nice. We want to give you another thank you. It was an absolute pleasure chatting with you and hearing about your story today. You can find Andrea's contact information in the show notes. This is Andrea and Radha signing off.
Andrea Copeland: Thank you.