Happy physician Mother’s Day

“A man’s work is from sun to sun but a mother’s work is never done.”

The Physician Moms Group is made up of 71 000 physician mothers from all over the globe. It was founded in 2014 to bring together women physicians who as medical professionals and moms are constantly juggling career and family. A recent article by Luy and colleagues, “Association of domestic responsibilities with career satisfaction for physician mothers in procedural vs nonprocedural fields” published in JAMA Surgery shed some light on the state of physician motherhood today.

Data analyses was limited to 1930 respondents from the Physician Moms Group. Seventy-four percent of the mothers were in nonprocedural specialties and family medicine and 26% were in procedural specialties. Overall, physician mothers reported having sole responsibilities for most domestic tasks, compared with their partners or spouses. The task list was long, including routine and emergency child care plans, cooking, shopping for groceries and children’s clothing, helping with homework, and vacation planning. The spouses or partners were more likely solely responsible for home repairs, finances, and automobile maintenance.  

Physician mothers in procedural and surgical specialties who reported significant involvement in domestic responsibilities were more likely to report a desire to change careers compared with those who have more even division of domestic tasks. Respondents in nonprocedural specialties did not report a significant desire to change careers regardless of the amount of responsibilities at home. 

The study’s findings are hardly a surprise but help to identify key areas for positive interventions. Extended child care services during and beyond working hours, increased flexibility in scheduling, and outsourcing domestic tasks are among basic suggestions. Encouragement of more equitable division of household labors would also reduce work family conflicts in the household. Ultimately a culture shift is needed not only at home but in the workplace to view parenting and domestic tasks as shared responsibilities. 

Medicine is changing as women make up more of physician workforce. The shift is happening in most specialties but more so in family medicine. In 2008, 28% of Canadian physicians were women; in 2018 that figure had grown to 41%. Although the ways in which female physicians practice differently from men needs more study, women are finding ways to address work-life balance. Dr Danielle Martin at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto thinks that as more women enter leadership positions more organizations will also accommodate caregiving needs, benefits, and parental leaves.

Let us hope so! On Mother’s Day on Sunday, 12 May, I am planning to raise my glass to honor physician mothers, whose work is never done.  
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading
Lyu HG, Davids JS, Scully RE, Melnitchouk N. Association of domestic responsibilities with career satisfaction for physician mothers in procedural vs nonprocedural fields. JAMA Surg. Published online 10 April 2019. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamasurgery/article-abstract/2730078.

Glauser W. Medicine changing as women make up more of physician workforce. CMAJ 2018;190:E404-405. www.cmaj.ca/content/190/13/E404. 

This post has not been peer reviewed by the BCMJ Editorial Board.

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