March 20, 2019

Kayla Marcotte: Expanding possibilities

Support systems are essential for med student parents both in and out of school

M4 Kayla came to Michigan Medical School with her husband Ryan, who was embarking on a journey of his own as a PhD candidate in Computer Science, and knew they wanted to become parents at some point during their training. In September 2018, they welcomed baby Caroline Marie and have continued on their adventure as a new family of three. Kayla took time from her busy life as a student, spouse and parent to answer 12 questions about all of her interests and how she ties it all together.

What called you to explore a career in medicine?

A career in medicine offered me opportunities to do all the things I wanted to do professionally: work with people, teach, do research, and work in policy. My interest in medicine started in high school with my biology, anatomy and physiology classes. I was fascinated by the science of the human body and wanted to learn more. This continued with my courses in college. I also loved policy work. I previously worked in Washington, DC as an advocate for children’s health and education policy. I believed a career in medicine would allow me to follow my academic interests while also doing advocacy work I was passionate about.

What have been your biggest challenges as a med student with a family, first with a spouse and then becoming a mom?

In September 2018, we welcomed our first child, Caroline Marie. Allocating time between family and school has always been my biggest challenge. As a student with a family, I constantly feel that I should be giving more time to both my family and school. I think this will continue to be my biggest challenge as our family grows and my clinical responsibilities increase.

My greatest rewards have been having a family to come home to at the end of the day. No matter how a day at school has gone, my husband and daughter are happy to spend time together. It has also been incredibly rewarding to watch Caroline learn new things as she grows and to know that I am helping her with it.

What resources have you found most helpful?

The friends I have made in medical school have been a better support system than I could have ever imagined. We live far away from both of our families (Texas and Montana), so we feel very blessed to have found amazing friends in Ann Arbor. When Caroline was born, many of my classmates brought us food, sent us cards, and checked in to make sure we were thriving as a family of three. As she has gotten older my friends have helped babysit while I've completed clinical duties, studied or just done laundry. I couldn’t have asked for better friends!

What extracurricular activities have been a part of your medical education?

During medical school, I’ve been involved in Admissions Ambassadors and our AMA group. I’ve volunteered for MiHealth and Project Healthy Schools, programs that go into community schools to teach health education. I’ve also worked for Project Healthy Schools as a research assistant for the entire duration of my medical education under the direction of Dr. Kim Eagle. I’ve been lucky enough to present at a number of national conferences including the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics.

Additionally, I’ve worked for the Department of Surgery in the Division of Anatomical Sciences as a teaching assistant and as part of the BlueLink team, which creates educational tools for students to learn anatomy. I have a real passion for teaching so this has been one of the best parts of medical school!

How have you balanced spending time with your family, studies, teaching, research and student orgs?

My husband (who just finished his PhD in Computer Science at Michigan) and I would often go on study dates to our favorite coffee shops so that we could spend time together while getting work done. With my daughter, I often use her nap time as a time to study/write. I try to take things day by day and make time for the important things! 

As a Texas transplant, how do you like living in Ann Arbor?

I have loved living in Ann Arbor! The winter was definitely something to get used to at first, but I really enjoy having different seasons throughout the year. Ann Arbor also has a large variety of things to do outdoors, which my husband and I really enjoy. I am a huge runner so I have particularly enjoyed all of the trails available throughout the city and surrounding towns.

What factors have you considered in choosing your future specialty?

In the future, I hope to pursue a career in Academic Medicine where I can teach and take care of patients. As a student with a family, I am considering how family-friendly programs are. Learning about maternity leave, sick leave and the general environment at a program is important to me. I have had excellent advising from our school and felt prepared to take on the residency application process while balancing my responsibilities and goals for my family. 

What is one thing you wish you would have known before applying to medical school?

I wish I had asked more about policies and support systems for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers when I was applying to schools. My husband and I knew we wanted to have children while I was still in school, so learning about the policies for students with families would have been helpful. Luckily for me, Michigan has been extremely supportive of my parenting, and I feel like I couldn’t have made a better choice.

Do you have any specific advice for other parents who are considering a career in medicine?

It has been wonderful to be a parent! I think considering how challenging being a parent and having a medical career will be is very important. Both are full-time jobs, however, both are also extremely rewarding. Having a strong support system is key to making it all work out.

How has Michigan been a good fit for you?

Michigan has offered me a lot of the opportunities I sought when applying to medical school. Michigan has excellent clinical training and numerous opportunities to pursue activities outside of the medical school. I’ve been able to explore my research interests, have been given opportunities to teach, and have gotten involved in a number of our student groups. There is no shortage of things to do at Michigan, and I have really enjoyed having a variety of activities to enhance my medical education with!

What are some insights you have gained as the result of going through a pregnancy while in med school and how have these shaped you as a physician in training?

Being a pregnant medical student taught me to advocate for myself. Medical trainees often ignore their own needs, but as a pregnant student I knew I needed to take care of myself so that my daughter would be taken care of. I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful everyone was, from my fellow students to attendings on our teams.

As a parenting medical student, I have gained a greater appreciation for unique situations and challenges that my colleagues and future patients might face. For example, it's difficult to schedule appointments for yourself or children during the work day. I also have a deeper understanding of what a huge responsibility it is to make health care decisions for a dependent. I think these perspectives will help me be a more compassionate physician as I continue my training.

What would you say to a prospective student who is considering the University of Michigan Medical School for their medical education?

I could not be happier with my decision to come to Michigan. I have had the chance to explore a variety of interests and the environment is extremely collegial. The school is highly supportive of students pursuing both their academic and personal goals, and I would come here again if I had to do it over again.