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Mothers in Medicine

Physician mothers feel significant pressure in balancing careers and family especially since many institutions don’t have a culture that is ideal for Doctors who have personal care-giving and parenting responsibilities.

“When women take time off for maternity leave, which they absolutely should, … because institutions don’t have sound policies about reentry, it could set their careers back” and hinder their rise into leadership, said Diana Lautenberger, who leads AAMC’s Group on Women in Medicine and Science, a professional development group to promote gender equality and advance women in medicine and science.

A survey published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that out of the respondents reporting maternal discrimination, nearly 90% reported unfair treatment related to pregnancy or maternity leave, and more than 48% said they had experienced discrimination related to breastfeeding. These physicians favored changes such as longer paid maternity leave, backup childcare, and breastfeeding support.

It is crucial to implement structural changes that address pregnancy, parental leave and childcare in order to mitigate the impacts of maternal discrimination in medicine. These changes are becoming more imperative as the majority of medical students are now women and it is estimated that around 80% of female physicians are or will become mothers.

Two recent studies published in JAMA highlighted parental stresses for medical residents, who are in their prime childbearing years. The first study found physicians training at many of the top U.S. medical schools get much less time off for childbearing and family leave than the 12 paid weeks supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The second study described specialty board leave policies for resident physicians requesting parental leave. It compared family and childbearing leave policies among 24 American Board of Medical Specialties member organizations that set training duration requirements for U.S. residency programs. Half of the specialty boards offered doctors in residency at least six weeks off without permitting them to extend the timeline for their training program.

Dr. Eleni Linos of the University of California, Los Angeles said, “Supporting doctors who are also mothers benefits the healthcare system through better care, better patient outcomes and better teachers for future generations.”

According to The National Academy of Medicine, “Societal expectations that women be primarily responsible for caregiver roles at home remain a barrier to fully equalizing the roles and responsibilities of men and women within and outside the workplace. Until these expectations change, health care organizations must acknowledge these societal demands and provide resources and flexibility in the work environment that can enable women’s success. Interventions in this area can include flexible works hours and options for family leave that facilitate care for children without negative career consequences. In addition, health care institutions should allocate resources that can help women be successful at work, including career development, mentoring, and peer support programs.”

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