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Solving a Temporary Career Dilemma: from pediatrician to doula

January 2020
In Brazil, Marcela had spent over ten years to qualify as a pediatric intensive care specialist. She was working at a hospital in Brazilia when she and her husband decided to move to Chicago for two years for his graduate degree. At first, Marcela was glad to have more time to care for her baby son, and relieved to take a break from her stressful job, but after one year she felt herself becoming restless. However, in the remaining time in Chicago, there was little she could do about her work situation.
After returning to Brazil, Marcela had a second child and resumed her work. Two years later, her husband took a position at the WBG. In Washington, Marcela knew from her experience in Chicago that she needed to be working professionally in some capacity. She briefly looked into requalifying as a physician in the US, but it didn’t seem worth it given her husband’s length of assignment (three years). Requalifying would involve several years of exams and a new residency, and furthermore, it was going to be expensive. She thought of using the time instead to add to her qualifications by doing an internship, but after an intense period of looking, she found no internships that were open to her.
A chance conversation with a friend suggested something she had never considered—being a birth doula. A doula is essentially a coach/companion for the mother (and family). A doula will keep the mother informed, safe and comfortable just before, during and after labor and delivery. Her friend suggested that Marcela try out being a doula by helping an acquaintance through the birth process.
Marcela was intrigued by this experience and decided to take the online classes and exams to qualify, which were not too challenging for her given her medical background. She also had to shadow a working doula, so she contacted a local doula service. Six months later, having completed her training, she applied for a job at the same company and has been working there for seven months.
Marcela works at DC Birth Doulas, and thinks very highly of the team she is now part of. She notes that hiring a doula is a growing trend in the US, and that studies show that with the presence of a doula, labors tend to be shorter and there are fewer c-sections. Some insurance companies will now partially cover the cost. Marcela has not attended a home birth as these are rare. Most are in the hospital.
Marcela brings two personal experiences to her new job that have helped her understand her clients better. After the birth of her first child, she went through a period of post-partum depression. The memory of this helps her to understand the physiological and emotional changes that happen to a new mother. The second experience was having children herself knowing from her first-hand professional experience all the things that can happen to a newborn, which was an anxiety she had to learn to deal with. This has helped her to understand the fears of women in childbirth.
Being a doula has been a complete change of pace for Marcela. Her medical background is useful, especially to be able to explain to a woman in labor any medical interventions that might be needed, but it’s not the most important part of her job. She is there to support the mother, so her focus is very different than being on the medical team with the doctors and nurses. But she has approached her new profession with curiosity and enthusiasm, and has discovered she has a lot to learn about supporting and coaching a woman in labor.
“This is a fulfilling job for me because I see the difference it makes to people, and how grateful they are for my presence and work. I miss my old job for sure, but I’m very happy with being a doula for now.”
Marcela and her husband have discussed taking one more posting before returning to live permanently in Brazil, where she will resume her profession as an intensive care pediatrician. She doesn’t know if being a doula is something she will be able to use again in another location, but it has been a useful, meaningful and rewarding career change for her in DC.


Alex Alba
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