Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Lack of Conference Childcare: A Barrier to Professional Development

By Nancy Dunne, MA, ND

Photo by {just jennifer} via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.

Kids need to move; they’ve got to ask their questions and have their snacks, now. Babies will cry and adults are hard-wired and emotionally programmed to stop what we are doing and attend to the sound. Their needs are real, relentless and never mix gracefully with a professional learning environment. We need childcare at our convention.

Cementing connections and active networking are vital components of career development, especially for young professionals. Although NDs are a diverse group, it’s safe to say a majority of new graduates are in their peak child-bearing and early child- rearing years. And so, each year as the AANP convention rolls around, many of us are facing again the difficult question of how to balance participation in our premier unifying celebration and CE opportunity with the needs of our children. I don’t want my colleagues for whom this is a current personal dilemma to face this hard choice alone, any longer.

We pride ourselves on our inclusiveness, our sense of family. I am here to tell you that we do not always walk our talk. I started medical school in 1984 with a two year old daughter. When I raised my hand during orientation to ask “What about child care facilities?” I was naively stunned to learn my school had absolutely no institutional provision to assist young parents. In that moment I made my new best friend, a classmate whose daughter was three. Nearly 30 years later this cherished, brilliant doctor and I have each made significant contributions to and with naturopathic medicine. We also remain acutely aware of the profound risks we took with our children’s development, and the literally sickening cost we paid, in order to become naturopathic physicians. She and I regularly reaffirm that it was our bonding and mutual support that got us through what was frankly an ordeal as young parents.

Our non-parent classmates, our teachers and the leadership of the profession at the time were unable to grasp and meaningfully empathize with our experience. We brought our kids to class when we had to; naturally, they were never happy to sit and be quiet. We did not learn optimally. Classmates and teachers did their best to accommodate our situation, but never once was it comfortable experience and at times we endured direct verbal criticism. This was in the 1980s, in a profession that was rapidly becoming majority female. Twenty-eight years later we have barely advanced in this arena. I want to change that, now.

Our schools are where we learn what it means to be a naturopath; it is where we are enculturated. It’s where I learned that reciting the prettiest ideals is no guarantee they will be lived out, unless there is also a meaningful commitment of resources and behavioral follow through. I am no longer affiliated with a school, but I am an AANP member. As such, I am asking you to join me in examining this issue. I am asking you to be part of the healing by putting your money where (I hope, I believe) your mouth is. Providing child care resources in support of whole family health for our colleagues who need it should be a fundamental value that we all make real, by making it a collective funding priority.

When I was AANP president, people regularly complained to me about kids being a bother at the convention. When I encouraged them to speak up with functional solutions, 100% of them replied with some version of ”They chose to have kids. Let them deal with it.” That attitude is both disappointing, and incorrect. This is a personal, career-development issue. It is also an aspect of the maturation of a profession. People combining parenting with their professional career is an established reality in our cultures and economy. Dual-priority parents bring uniquely valuable assets to the practitioner and patient communities. Their requests for child care provisions are not the complaints of irresponsible whiners. Accommodating family needs in professional environments is about removing barriers that represent an insupportable, regressive position that is also primarily gender-specific.

It is rare for professional women with children to have spouses who are available 24/7 for the kids. Generally speaking professional women marry professional men far more often than the reverse--according to a 2003 University of California, Berkeley, study, the figure for women was 61% compared to just 27% for men. Despite advances, in our culture women still provide the majority of direct care, or pay for others to care for their children. The barriers to career development related to child-rearing disproportionately affect women. The naturopathic profession, especially for those graduating since 1990, is predominately female.

Not attending the AANP conference is a loss for both the docs who stay home, and for those of us who miss the social, spiritual and learning opportunities these colleagues are not available to be part of, to add to, to solely author, at the convention. We are all poorer for their absence. When they bring their children and have to tote them around, strain to shush and contain them during lectures, when parents miss out on the shared learning experiences that meld and elaborate our practices, we all lose.

For most NDs, paying for a companion, a friend or relative, to come along to take care of the children just isn't a realistic option. But how much responsibility should the AANP assume? We have provided on-site nursing rooms with lecture sound piped in. Some associations provide a list of local providers on their conference Web sites. But when offered, this rather arms-length provision has not been satisfactory for our member parents. Our standards and preferences being what they are, we require child care services congruent with our wholism and our practice philosophy.

We have to make hard decisions about how to use limited time and resources. The 2010 AANP convention is recognizing the importance of our family members with a family picnic on Friday after sessions. It is at a great park/courtyard right near the convention center. We will have picnic foods, a band and kid-focused fun. Knowing that so many docs live local to Portland, we wanted to plan something that they could bring their families to. This is the AANP putting our money where our mouth is, acknowledging the heart-centers of our lives with a family specific moment.

To carry this value through to its full integrity requires a community-wide commitment to institute this value where it belongs. We must establish childcare as a regular feature in all of our institutions, including at the annual national convention. We do this by committing as a community to fund it as if it were as important as every other element we expect as a matter of course to be available to us.

Think about it. Next week I’ll fill you in on the practical liability and cost details that we have to work with. There will be a survey made during the convention to poll your personal decision regarding what level of commitment you will make to provide for our families at the AANP convention. Meanwhile, I welcome all your feedback and creativity for identifying funding sources to make this a foundational element of the naturopathic community.


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. Yes, please consider providing childcare at future AANP conferences, even if there is a charge associated with it. It is such an inconvenient distraction to wonder and worry about who your children are annoying during conference sessions, or rushing back and forth between the conference and the babysitter. Thanks for this post!!!

  3. congrats! keep up the good work/this is a great presentation.

    Child Care VIC

  4. There are no words to convey. I just enjoyed while reading this blog. Very nice blog.