Many female physicians sacrifice their families and careers to achieve work-life balance

Many female physicians sacrifice their families and careers to achieve work-life balance

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Female physicians typically adjust their career trajectories and family-building plans to balance their medical careers with childbearing and parenthood, survey results showed.

More than 80% of female physicians said they had delayed having children at some point in their careers due to the demands of medical training, reported Jennifer Bakkensen, MD, a third-year fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Medicine in Chicago.

Additionally, some female physicians have made significant career choices to accommodate their family-building plans, such as taking extended leave, changing the setting in which they practice, or for a few, even leaving medicine. said Bakkensen in a presentation to the American Society for Reproductive. Annual Medical Congress.

Overall, 34% of female physicians said they did not take advantage of opportunities to advance their careers to adjust to motherhood or parenthood.

Over the past two decades, research has shown persistent gender gaps in leadership in medicine, many of which have not narrowed, Bakkensen said. MedPage today.

“I think a lot of the knee-jerk reaction is that it’s all about discrimination,” Bakkensen said. Adding that discrimination plays some role, she said the results show that gender disparities are also the result of “greater societal pressures, societal norms, that drive women to make these accommodations.”

Women are increasingly represented in medicine, but they continue to hold significantly fewer leadership positions than men, Bakkensen said in his presentation. About 16% of all medical school dean positions, 18% of department chair positions, and 25% of full-time faculty positions were held by women in 2018, according to data from the Association of American Medical. Colleges.

In this study, Bakkensen and her colleagues conducted a survey to assess how female physicians adjusted their career choices and family construction to balance parenthood and work in medicine. The researchers distributed an online survey to female physicians as part of a national social media campaign between March and April 2022.

The team included 741 survey respondents in the analysis. Physicians who responded to the survey were on average 39 years old. Overall, 90% identified as heterosexual and 85% were married or in a relationship. Nearly 40% have experienced infertility and 55% have used in vitro fertilization to conceive. The majority of survey respondents were Caucasian.

About 20% of respondents were residents or fellows, and 69% were assistants. Most respondents had training in obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, or pediatrics, but a smaller number of physicians in family medicine, surgery, and emergency medicine also participated in the survey. In addition, 43% practiced medicine in an academic setting, 27% worked in private practice and 21% practiced in a community setting.

The majority of female physicians have postponed plans to start a family due to career challenges. Of all respondents, 62% had delayed having children in the past because of their medical careers, and 18% were currently pushing their plans.

In total, 42% of women delay their family construction projects by 0 to 3 years. Nearly 30% delayed 3 to 5 years and 21% pushed their plans back 5 years or more, the researchers found.

Women doctors cited lack of time, lack of schedule flexibility, stress and worrying about overburdening their colleagues as the main factors they considered when deciding when to have children. Less than 40% said the lack of a partner contributed to their choice of when to start a family.

While 27% of respondents worked 60 hours or more per week, 52% said they worked between 40 and 59 hours per week and 15% between 20 and 39 hours.

Many of the women who responded to the survey worked longer hours than their spouses. In addition, 54% were responsible for household maintenance tasks such as cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning, and 64% were responsible for family maintenance tasks including childcare, the doctor and the school forms.

Some physicians took additional steps to accommodate their plans to start a family, such as taking an extended leave of more than 12 weeks (20%), choosing another specialty (21%), reducing work hours (33% ) or change their work environment (19%), for example from an academic setting to a private practice. Only 3% of respondents left medicine to adapt to building a family.

The multimodal sampling technique used in this study may have limited these results, as it may have subjected the research to sampling bias, Bakkensen said. Additionally, she stated that there was a high proportion of infertility in the sample, which may indicate response bias.

Bakkensen said she hopes new research will inform policies around increasing fertility coverage and parental leave.

“There is clearly more work to be done to assess the underlying etiologies of gender disparities in medicine,” she said. “These data highlight potentially critical areas for affecting future changes.”

  • Amanda D’Ambrosio is a reporter on the business and investigative team at MedPage Today. She covers obstetrics and gynecology and other clinical news, and writes about the US healthcare system. Follow


The research was funded by the ASRM Research Institute.

Bakkensen disclosed no conflicts of interest.

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