Fourth-Year Wisdom: Being a Mother and a Medical Student

November 14, 2017 by Grace Adamson '18 with introduction by Michelle Bookless

#MEDSCHOOLADVICE is a monthly column that highlights questions from first- and second-year UVM medical students and advice from third- and fourth-years. This month, we asked Grace Adamson from the Class of 2018 to share her journey to medical school, her experiences in school, and advice she has for current and future medical student, particularly those with families.

Grace Adamson '18 poses outside of the Chittenden County Humane Society with her husband and son on the day that they adopted their dog, Rosa Barks (also pictured).

#MEDSCHOOLADVICE is a monthly column that highlights questions from first- and second-year UVM medical students and advice from third- and fourth-year students.

This month, we asked Grace Adamson '18 to share the story of her journey to medical school, her experiences in medical school, and advice she has for current and future medical students, particularly those with families. 

When did you know you wanted to become a physician? 

I always wanted to be a doctor, but gave it up for short-sighted reasons when I was a freshman in college. I went in a totally different direction and on to law school, becoming a trial attorney in Washington D.C. for over ten years. However, I always regretted not becoming a doctor. My favorite part of my job as a lawyer was meeting with my clients and helping them problem solve, counseling them through difficult times, and developing long-term relationships with them and their families. That personal connection and relationship-building, however, was the smallest aspect of my work. Being an attorney was mostly, in my case, about working behind a desk and then battling in the courtrooms. One day, I decided to stop feeling the regret of not pursuing medicine and to follow a path doing what I love. It took me almost 6 years of night school in my thirties, while working full time during the day, just to get the prerequisites required to apply to medical school. But, I have never felt the regret again since I started down this new path in my life. I finally feel I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing in life.

When you were a first-year medical student, what was your biggest concern? 

My biggest fear was that I would not be able to juggle motherhood and medical school in my late thirties/early forties. My son was 11 months old when I started medical school and my husband was enrolled in an electrical apprentice program and had classes one night per week and on the weekends. I was afraid it would all be too much, that I was too old and tired, and that my son might actually suffer the most from having two busy, distracted parents.

What about second-year? And third-year? And now, fourth-year?

Second and third year, I had similar fears with clerkship scheduling around being a good mom and possibly missing time with my family.

How did you overcome the concerns you mention above?

I connected with other parents who were in medical school before starting and they eased some of my worries, just by seeing from them that it actually could be done! I stayed connected with other parents in medical school and we got through it together. I asked for help. I relied on my neighbors sometimes to watch my son if I was running late. I didn’t try to do it alone. And eventually, I found a routine with being a mother and wife in medical school. Most importantly, I let go of the notion of perfectionism (e.g., wanting to graduate at the top of my class) and instead focused on the quality of my learning while present during the day. At 5 or 6  p.m. most nights, I put down the books and focused on my family. I tried to be there for every dinner for my son, and read him to sleep every night possible. I remained focused on the important things in life, and everything else worked itself out.

Have your medical interests changed since you first entered medical school? Were you interested in a specific specialty or subspecialty and has that changed? Why or what not? 

I knew before starting medical school that I was going to go into family medicine and that has not changed over the last 3-plus years. I knew when switching careers that I wanted to work with entire families, as a unit, to empower them to make healthy choices in their life. That is still my plan. Since starting medical school, I also have developed a love for palliative medicine and I hope to do a fellowship in that after my family medicine residency. The philosophies of palliative care and end-of-life decision-making with families embodies all of the aspects that I love about family medicine. It’s about connecting with families, learning their stories, and helping them achieve their healthcare goals in a way that is consistent with their core values. How beautiful is that?

What was one experience you’ve had that you fervently wish all medical students should/could have?

Getting meaningfully involved in my local community. During my first year of medical school, I joined the board of a directors of a non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of substance abuse in my town of Winooski, Vt., and I am now the president of that board. Through this service work, I have learned so much about the functioning of local non-profits, board of directors management, evidence-based substance abuse prevention programs, and how to engage my community on the issues central to our mission. In addition to connecting more with Winooski residents, I also have developed collegial relationships with my town leaders, including our mayor, members of our City Council, our state representative, faith leaders, and our police chief and other members of our police force. It’s been an absolutely invaluable experience and I think set the stage for me to become a physician/community leader in any town where I may practice some day.  

Offer or request #MEDSCHOOLADVICE

Are you a first- or second-year medical student who needs advice about a specific topic, challenge, etc? Are you a third- or fourth-year student who would like to share some hard-earned wisdom with new medical students? Write to, tweet @uvmlarnermed, Insta message @uvmmedicine, or send us a Facebook message, and we may feature you in a future #medschooladvice column (anonymous entries will not be accepted).