Family Practice: Being Mom & Med Student at the U

By and

\Soleil, Indigo and Uinta Cook regularly enjoy the outings most girls do: piano and dance lessons, camping trips and local festivals. But one outing was particularly enjoyable for them?watching their mother Paula don the first white coat of her career during the U’s White Coat Ceremony honoring medical students.

“They’ve always known I’m a student,” said Paula Cook. In her first year as a medical student, Cook noticed “there are fewer women [in the U’s medical school] than most years, and only a few of us have kids?three or four out of 104. Some male students have kids, but it’s a little different when you’re the mom.”

Traditional gender roles have yielded, as a matter of course, the opportunity for men to raise families while pursuing their careers, yet most women are still faced with the difficult decision between the two. For Cook, “it wasn’t a matter of having to decide,” thanks in part to her husband Robert, who shares with Cook the daily routine in which she plays the dual role of mother and med student.

Cook begins each day with an early workout. She has to be back home at 7 a.m. in order to have her girls on the school bus by 8:05. Mother and daughters spend most of the day in school. “It’s about commitment,” Cook said of her schedule. When Soleil, Indigo and Uinta come home from Beacon Heights elementary school, Cook is there to greet them. She waits until the children are in bed, usually at 8 p.m., to start studying.

“Sometimes I get a bit psyched out that others seem to study more than I do,” Cook admitted, “but I don’t have the guilt issue.”

Cook was raised in Zimbabwe, where her father had immigrated from Ireland, driven by a desire to see the world and an offer he couldn’t refuse: free passage, board and a position as civil servant. Cook came to Utah on a scholarship to study at Brigham Young University and finished her degree in Health Promotion and Education here at the U.

Many couples nearing their 30s seem to be questioning the feasibility of lifestyles such as the Cooks’, who are frequently asked what their ‘secret’ is. Paula Cook answers emphatically, “a dedication to education.”

Cook cites several factors which facilitate her educational goals, the most important being married student housing, a community which provides “instantaneous support” for those working to achieve similar goals. This community may be built on cinderblocks and debt, but it’s about giving children a neighborhood of playmates and parents a network of support.

The Women’s Resource Center and the Parent’s Night Out program have also proven invaluable for the Cook family. “There’s plenty of support out there,” Paula Cook said.

For Cook, what makes the difference between desperation and drive is knowing that the decision to take on the demands of higher education is solely one’s own. “As long as I feel in control,” she said, “I can do it.”

The most difficult aspect of being a mother in medical school? Helping your kids out with their homework, answered Cook. “The last thing I want to do is more homework.”

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