The women who juggle high-pressure jobs as physicians with family find strength in their Mama Docs running community.
When Dr. Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez received news in 2018 that her grandmother had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, she knew instantly who in her running community she could turn to in her sadness.
“I was so heartbroken and upset because grandmas are awesome, especially ones who have watched you run since you were in middle school track,” says Verduzco-Gutierrez, who works as brain injury and stroke rehab doctor and researcher in Houston.
Her friends in the “Mama Docs Run This” Facebook group were ready with love and kindness—and give her a push to continue with her plans to run a half marathon that weekend. It was a group Verduzco-Gutierrez, 40, joined in 2016 to find women who run and also met the demands of their medical professions and motherhood.
“So many words of encouragement and how to run in her honor, which I did, and I had a big PR in the half,” says the mom of two.
Mama Docs Run This has 1,500 members—all verified by the group’s leaders before being allowed to join—across the United States and in countries as far away as New Zealand. With many specialties in medicine still dominated by men, women doctors who are also raising children and pursuing athletic goals need ways to connect with each other.
“I’ve never had a running group that understood the very unique challenges that come with being a mom and doctor,” says Dr. Emi Ponce de Souza, a neonatologist and mother of three in Seattle. “We are all high-performing, competitive Type-A personalities who dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T.’”
From offering another member a place to stay when she is traveling for business to sending a care package to a somebody who is bummed about an injury, the women have each other’s backs, just like other groups within the running community.
“We have close to elite runners, and some people who are perfectly happy with their 15-minute mile,” Ponce de Souza says. “The point is to celebrate and support that it’s about being strong.”
And it’s not solely a virtual community. Many of the women connect in real life in the regions where they live, get together for runs, socialize, and generally relieve stress together.
“With all the demands on our time, our lives can be somewhat isolating,” says Dr. Laura Morrison, an obstetrician/gynecologist in Portland, Oregon, and mother of two. “There is not always time to go out with girlfriends, or even have a date night, and so to have this group of friends really fills a need that many of us have.”
Others have traveled thousands of miles to race together. In April, a few dozen women doctors gathered at the Boston Marathon and shared Sunday brunch. At the 2018 Big Sur International Marathon, about 60 members had a banquet on the beach and hung out around a campfire.
“It was a party marathon,” Ponce de Souza says. “It was the most amazing experience.”
It’s a group that tries to make the most of time away. In addition to regularly working 100 hours a week, mama docs deal with life-and-death pressure in their jobs on top of the challenges they face at home.
Like many mama docs in the group, Dr. Brianne Roby, a pediatric ear, nose and throat specialist in Minneapolis, turns to running as a coping mechanism. When her younger sister died last year, “I found that I was needing to run harder, longer, faster,” she says.
It was during that time, when a friend of Roby’s had also died, that a colleague introduced her to the Mama Docs, who urged her to cut herself some slack. The group kept her grounded.
“From a running standpoint, I was getting more competitive,” she says. “They would say, ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself. Don’t let it be a stressor. If running is how we deal with stress, we need it to be a positive thing.’”
As more women enter medicine—they now make up more than half of medical school students in U.S., according to Association of American Medical Colleges—the need for the Mama Docs running community will only grow.
“We will welcome in those like-minded women with a love for mothering, doctoring and running,” says Verduzco-Gutierrez, noting the problem of burnout and depression among physicians. “Psychologists have found that social relationships lead to longer and healthier lives. Facebook groups like Mama Docs Run This are social relationships in today’s world.”