Study: Discrimination a Very Real Experience for Physician-Moms

A new study proves that it's not easy being a physician and a mom.

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine sheds light on a topic that many female health care providers have known for years: It’s not easy being a physician and a mom.

Researchers polled nearly 6,000 female physician mothers over a wide range of medical specialties, and the results were astounding.  Nearly two-thirds of the respondents (66.3%) reported feelings of discrimination related to their gender.  Equally concerning, more than one-third (35.8%) responded that they had experienced discrimination directly related to their roles as moms.

Related: Confessions of a Working Mama

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of California San Francisco, was inspired by online dialog occurring among female doctors who belong to the Physician Moms Group (PMG).  With over 60,000 physician members, the PMG community supports women attempting to seek a balance between medicine and motherhood.

Of the women who said that they had experienced maternal discrimination, approximately 90% attributed it to pregnancy or maternity leave, and nearly 50% reported that it was due to breastfeeding.

In a story by CBS News, study author Dr. Eleni Linos explains, “”We know that breastfeeding has health benefits for children so as physicians, that is a basic medical fact. We teach it and try to educate our patients on it. It is funny that our own workplaces don’t have a place to support that”.

Related: The Flex Mom: A New Model for Motherhood

The most common form of discrimination was identified as physicians feeling mistreated by nurses or other support staff. While some doctors felt that they were not included in administrative decisions, others suggested that they were held to a higher standard of performance than their peers.

Additionally, many felt that their pay and benefits were not equivalent to their male counterparts, a finding which has been substantiated by several studies. Younger physicians, those with more children, and women who had younger children were more likely to feel affected by discrimination.

The study identified several desirable changes, including a more flexible schedule, higher salaries, and longer paid maternity leaves.  Improved childcare options and additional support for breast milk pumping were also named as possible solutions.

A recent Harvard study found that patients who were cared for by female doctors were less likely to die or return to the hospital than those cared for by their male colleagues.  Given that nearly half of all medical students are women, it would behoove the profession to take a closer look at the gender disparities that are currently occurring.

“Physician mothers treat patients, raise children, teach students and care for sick relatives and friends. But who looks after them?,” said Dr. Linos.  It’s an excellent question.  If we aren’t going to care for our own in medicine, who will?


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