A new Partners HealthCare parental leave policy enacted last fall is helping to ease the pressures faced by physicians-in-training who seek to balance the dual—and at times conflicting—goals of career preparation and family. The eight-week paid leave for graduate medical education residents and fellows at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital now applies to all new mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents in the training programs—an expansion of an earlier policy which specified paid leave just for childbearing mothers.

“Bringing a new child into the family is a pivotal moment in any parent’s life” notes Debra Weinstein, MD, Partners Vice President of Graduate Medical Education. “Parental leave not only facilitates bonding with a new child, but also helps new parents figure out how to navigate the practical aspects of parenting alongside the intensive demands of being a resident or fellow.”

Work-life balance can be elusive for physicians-in-training. Being a new parent can exacerbate the sleep deprivation faced by residents who are often working 80-hours per week. Many moved to Boston for training without having local family or support networks. In addition, child care costs can add to the mounting debt faced by residents who (nationally) enter their training with an average of >$180,000 in medical school debt. The Partners policy—which, unlike the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections, takes effect as soon as the residency or fellowship begins—seeks to address an important need and hopefully reduce the risk of trainee burnout.

Its enactment dovetails with research undertaken by Dr. Weinstein and colleagues - including Brigham and MGH residents - examining family leave policies at 15 major medical institutions. The study found that half of the leading training institutions lacked an institutional policy ensuring paid parental leave for residents and fellows. Thus, the Partners policy seems to be at the leading edge of a changing landscape.

“More work is needed to help trainees everywhere tackle the lifelong work of balancing personal and professional lives,” notes Dr. Weinstein.

Read more about the research and Partners policy at WBUR.

Topics: Behavioral Health, Academic Medical Centers, Health Professions

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