Female surgeons life quality during residency training. Advice from a surgeon-mom. 4
You study how medical and surgical training impacts quality of life, pregnancy results, and career satisfactions in female physicians. You have published several very interesting research articles on this topic. 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. I have two kids. We made several interesting discoveries. Women in procedural fields take shorter maternity leaves. Women owe more money to their clinical practices when they have to return to work. Procedural medical specialities are surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, gastroenterology. Women have less career satisfaction. They would like to change their specialty much more frequently than female physicians in non-procedural fields. One cause is probably the selection bias as well. Because we surveyed women who are early in their child-rearing age. All their kids are young, up to five or six years old. They are in trenches of clinical practice. They obviously have to deal with professional career. At the same time female physicians have to deal with their family. It is more difficult to combine surgical career and family. Let’s explain medical education in the Unites States for our international viewers. After young physicians in the United States finish medical school, they usually undergo 5 years of the residency training program. Residency program takes 5 years especially in procedural fields. They work as physicians, but that is an extra strain on a person. Then they become Attending physicians, like you are now. You surveyed female physicians mostly during the residency training program or fellowship specialty training? Or were they already Attending physicians? We actually surveyed both residency trainees and attending physicians. We surveyed physicians who were in training and physicians who already were done with the training. There was no huge difference in the length of maternity leave or issues that both groups are dealing with. It is 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. Then they do extra fellowship. When you are done with all the training, you are in your mid-thirties. That is the age where your fertility starts to decline. We did look at that. We studied whether female physicians used more IVF services. We studied whether female physicians in procedural fields had problems to become pregnant. We did not confirm that theory. But it might be because we surveyed all the women who already had kids. So they were successful in achieving childbearing. You have done and published research on career satisfaction and challenges of female surgeons. What advice would you give to younger female physicians? Maybe they are finishing medical school or just starting their residency? What should they do? Don’t wait to have kids if that’s one of your goals in life. Because life is unpredictable and you never know what can happen. Being pregnant during residency will be difficult. But being pregnant and having children is also difficult when you are an Attending Physician. Just figure out what is important for you. Then achieve your goal. What is a typical maternity leave period in the United States, if there is one? Maternity leave for physicians varies. It depends. For trainees it’s six to eight weeks. Maternity period’s length also depends if you have the C-section or not. When you are Attending Physician, you can take up to 12 weeks. But some maternity leave is paid, some of it is unpaid. It depends on what clinical practice situation you are in. In the US we follow FMLA rule. This rule 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 difficult. There is a lot of pressure to take less time for maternity leave in the high-pressure clinical career environment. Definitely. Because, first of all, another physician has to look after your patients. There is an increased burden on your partners potentially. Although you try to pay them back if they’re sick or if somebody else takes maternity leave. There is also a financial burden on a system. Here in the United States we really have to figure out the better method to provide paid maternity leave to all the mothers.
How can patients avoid mistakes when dealing with a medical problem? Leading doctors share wisdom: