The demands of motherhood and careers in surgery are both widely understood. When the two roles are combined, the challenges can be daunting—as highlighted in a recent Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) study shedding light on the issues facing mothers in surgical training.

According to the research, published in JAMA Surgery, 39 percent of women who had children during their surgical residency strongly considered leaving their training. Further, nearly a third of the 347 nationwide respondents said they would discourage female medical students from pursuing careers in surgery in light of work/life balance issues; 60 percent reported a negative stigma associated with being pregnant as a surgical resident.

The real and perceived headwinds facing the 36.5 percent of female surgeons-in-training are formidable obstacles for medical institutions seeking to diversify their talent. “This is a workforce issue,” says Erika Rangel, MD, the study’s lead author and a BWH surgeon. “If we want to recruit the best candidates, we have to recruit those women.”

In fact, parenting during residency (or fellowship) training is challenging across all specialties. Last year, BWH radiology residents Kirti Magudia and Thomas Ng and Massachusetts General Hospital medicine residents Alex Bick and Megan Koster surveyed trainees from across Partners HealthCare in an effort to understand how Partners might better support trainees with children. 634 residents and fellows responded (28% of those surveyed) from a wide variety of specialties and levels of training. Two thirds indicated plans for having children during training and one third were already parents. Access and affordability of childcare emerged as a particular need, and opportunities to enhance the availability of on-site lactation facilities and information about department-specific parental leave policies were also highlighted.

Parenting during residency is one of many important issues central to Resident/Fellow well-being that Partners HealthCare is hoping to address. A system-wide Resident/Fellow Well Being Council was initiated in February and is meeting monthly and setting priorities for the coming year. Cornelia Griggs (featured in this Globe article, and now on maternity leave) and Richard Joseph (a BWH internal medicine resident) are co-chairing the group. The Council works closely with Liz Harry, MD, Partners Faculty Advisor for Resident/Fellow Wellness, and the Graduate Medical Education (GME) leadership team. Data from the resident-initiated survey on parenting and another on gender bias – along with data from a system-wide GME survey on trainee wellness - will help to guide efforts of the Well-Being Council and Partners GME to enhance life during training. Also, of note, 40 trainees volunteered to join a GME Trainee Parent task force or committee.   

Read more in The Boston Globe and online at Partners' Office of Graduate Medical Education.

Topics: Behavioral Health, Health Professions, Partners Corporate

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