Career satisfaction in female surgeons vs. non-surgeons
Women physicians in procedural fields – surgery, OB/GYN, gastroenterology – often have less career satisfaction than their peers in non-procedural fields (internal medicine, pediatrics). Harvard-trained surgeon, mother, and public health researcher and educator explains the challenges that female physicians and surgeons face in the US:
– One of your interests is to study how medical and surgical training impacts quality of life, pregnancy outcomes, and career satisfactions in female physicians. And you have published several very interesting studies on this topic. So what have you discovered in your research on female physicians? Yes, this is actually a project that was of personal interest to me, because I am a surgeon mom and have two kids. We did discover that women who are in procedural fields, such as surgery, OB/GYN, gastroenterology, they end up taking shorter maternity leaves, they end up owing more money to their practices, when they have to come back. They have actually less career satisfaction and they answer the question that they would like to change the field much more frequently than [female physicians] in non-procedural fields. Some of it is probably the selection bias as well, because we surveyed women who are early in their child-rearing age, so all their kids are young, up to five or six years old. So they’re in trenches and they obviously have to deal with their career and at the same time with their family. So it makes it kind of more difficult to combine both. And for the international viewers, so when people finish medical school in the United States, they usually go to, especially in procedural fields, for about 5 years of the residency training program. They work as physicians but that’s an extra strain on a person, and then they become Attending physicians, like you are now. The female physicians that you surveyed, were they mostly during the residency or fellowship training? Or were they already Attending physicians? So we actually surveyed both. We surveyed physicians who were in training and physicians who already were done with the training and they were in the early Attending years. There was no huge difference in the length of maternity leave or issues that both groups are dealing with. And it’s true, in the United States the surgical training is very long. People do medical school and then they do residency for about five to seven years, and then they do extra fellowship. So when you’re done with all the training you’re in your mid-thirties, and that’s basically where your fertility starts to decline. So we did look at that to see a little bit if people had increased IVF use, or issues with trying to conceive. We did not show that, but it might be because we surveyed all the women who already had kids, so they were successful in achieving childbearing. – So based on this personal project and the research that you have done and published, what advice would you give to the younger female physicians, who maybe finishing medical school or just starting their residency? What should they do? I say – don’t wait to have kids if that’s one of your goals, because life is unpredictable and you never know what can happen. It will be difficult during training, but it is difficult when you are an Attending Physician as well. So just figure out what’s important for you and go for it. – And in the United States, what is a typical maternity leave if there is one? – So it depends. For trainees it’s six to eight weeks. It depends if you have the C-section or not. When you are Attending Physician, you can take up to 12 weeks, but some of it is paid, some of it is unpaid. It depends on what practice situation you are in. In the US we follow FMLA rule, which basically tells the employers that they have to give 12 weeks off to a person who just had a baby. But it does not mandate paid leave. – The reality of the situation is, obviously, in the high-pressure clinical career environment and the group practice, possibly, there’s a lot of pressure to take less time… – Definitely. Because I mean, first of all, somebody has to look after your patients. So there’s a burden on your partners potentially, although you try to pay them back if they’re sick or if somebody else takes maternity leave. And also financial burdens on a system – so here in the United States we really have to figure out the better way to provide paid maternity leave to all the mothers.