May 8, 2017 / 11:00 PM / 3 years ago

Doctors who are mothers face discrimination

((This May 8 story corrects affiliation in paragraph 3 to University of California, San Francisco))

By Andrew M. Seaman

(Reuters Health) - About two thirds of female physicians with children have experienced gender discrimination and one third report discrimination due to pregnancy, maternity leave or breastfeeding, according to a survey conducted last year.

The female doctors who reported maternal discrimination were also more likely to report feeling burned out and more likely to value workplace changes that would make life easier for parents.

Senior author Dr. Eleni Linos of the University of California, San Francisco was surprised to find “such high perceptions of discrimination” and particularly surprised “that such a high percentage was due to motherhood like breastfeeding, pregnancy and maternity leave.”

Linos told Reuters Health that the survey participants were drawn from the online community known as the Physician Moms Group, which is composed of nearly 70,000 physicians who are also mothers. The researchers posted a survey in the group in June 2016 that included questions about discrimination in the workplace.

They received 5,782 responses, with 78 percent reporting some type of discrimination.

About 66 percent reported gender discrimination and about 36 percent reported maternal discrimination. Of the 4,222 respondents who reported gender or maternal discrimination, about 40 percent reported both.

Among women reporting maternal discrimination, about 90 percent said it was due to pregnancy or maternity leave and about 48 percent said it was due to breastfeeding.

As reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, maternal discrimination mostly took the form of disrespectful treatment by support staff, being left out of administrative decisions and not receiving pay or benefits equal to their male peers.

Compared to physician-mothers who didn’t report workplace discrimination, those who did were more likely to report valuing workplace changes like longer paid maternity leave, help with child care, more breastfeeding support and additional sick days.

About 46 percent of doctors who reported maternal discrimination also reported burnout, compared to about 34 percent of those who didn’t report the discrimination.

In a separate report in the same journal, Dr. Monee Rassolian of Michigan State University in Flint and colleagues write that more than half of doctors in the United States reported at least one symptom of burnout in 2014.

They analyzed data from 9,452 doctors seeking certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and found an increased risk of burnout tied several workplace factors including stress and working in hectic environments.

“Burnout is a really important topic, because it has consequences for patient care and outcomes,” said Linos.

In an editorial accompanying the new research, two doctors who are mother and daughter point out that half of young physicians are women of childbearing age.

“Decisions about clinical staffing levels (including residency program size) should anticipate the need to schedule around reasonable maternity leave, reduced call schedules in late pregnancy, and part-time schedules for new mothers (and more and more often, fathers),” write Dr. Marcia Angell of Harvard Medical School in Boston and Dr. Lara Goitein of Christus St. Vincent Regional Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Linos said supporting doctors who are also mothers benefits the healthcare system through better care, better patient outcomes and better teachers for future generations.

“As a physician mother, I feel supporting physician moms is really essential for everyone,” she said.

SOURCE:, and JAMA Internal Medicine, online May 8, 2017.

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