Lack of Maternity Leave Tough on Medical Moms

The policies of many teaching hospitals are tough on doctor moms and their marriages, says an expert on medical marriages in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Wayne Sotile, the director of psychological services for Wake Forest University’s cardiac rehabilitation program and co-author of “The Medical Marriage: A Couple’s Guide” with his wife, Mary, says in JAMA that the lack of maternity leave and family-friendly policies among teaching hospitals puts the marriages of doctor moms particularly at risk.

“One solution that would ease the burden of resident (physician) couples wanting to start a family during residency is for programs to institute part-time residencies and leave-of-absence policies for physicians, both male and female, who want to be involved in raising a family,” the Sotiles report.

“However, until such changes occur, we counsel resident couples to postpone starting a family until after residency training if possible.”

Even under perfect conditions, medical marriages are tough to keep together, Sotile says, because of the combat mentality required to survive the grueling schedule and long hours apart. Half of all medical students marry during medical school or residency training, but 60 percent divorce within 10 years — often because of marital discord produced by work-related stress.

Keeping a marriage together is even tougher for women physicians than men, Sotile says, because of inadequate maternity leave policies, resentment from other physicians and supervisors, and their greater tendency than male physicians to marry other doctors or professionals of the same status with equally harried schedules.

In the JAMA article, the Sotiles note that, as of 1992, 68 percent of teaching hospitals had no formal policies offering maternity leave. The average time off at the hospitals with leave policies: two to six weeks. And of the women who took maternity leave, the Sotiles report in JAMA that over 40 percent report hostility from their superiors and colleagues for taking time off. Despite their demanding careers, the Sotiles say that virtually all of the women in medical marriages oversee child care and household responsibilities.

“The multiple roles required by married female residents, i.e., spouse, physician-in-training, mother and primary care giver, promote a chronic hurriedness that fuels Type A behavior that female physicians are far more likely to develop than their male colleagues or women in general.”

Categories: Personal and Career Development, School of Medicine