Physician Father’s Day

Historically, the recognition of Father’s Day preempted Mother’s Day by some 500 years. The Catholic church supported the celebration of fatherhood on St. Joseph’s Day from the early 15th century on. Outside of Catholic traditions, civic recognition was inaugurated only in the early 1910s in Spokane, Washington. It was to honor fathers’ active role in child rearing.

Father’s Day in Canada is not a public holiday and there is no special celebration of practicing physician fathers, and even less recognition of medical student fathers or fathers who are engaged in a residency training program. However, of relatively late, there is a very strong move afoot within academic and clinical institutions, as well as medical associations, to properly recognize that while medical mothers still carry the major burden, medical fathers are playing more and more active role in child rearing and may also require extended and financially supported paternal leaves.

There is very little health-related, administrative, or economic research data on the impact of parental leaves on either medical fathers and mothers or on the future of their newborn child. 

It is clear that undergraduate and postgraduate medical programs tend to be rather inflexible—and there are no simple answer to how to accommodate time off for parental leaves either during medical training or in practice. It is not clear how much the mental wellness of students or residents is affected by the competing demands of parenthood and the process of becoming or being a doctor. On the negative side, medical parents may be at high risk of burnout secondary to sleep deprivation, unpredictable work hours, difficult child care arrangements, financial problems, and other issues. On the positive side, adequately supported leave arrangements are thought to reduce family life stressors, support couple relationships, and may contribute to bonding and other features of early learning and child development.

In that positive context, the Canadian Federation of Medical Students and various resident doctors’ organizations, including Resident Doctors of BC, are committed to promoting medical student and resident physician wellness. The wide range of recommendations include experimentation with curricular flexibility, clarification of parental leave options, policies that demonstrate support of pregnant students and residents, and, after the birth or adoption of the offspring, support of the new parents.

Parental leave is perhaps the most tangible benefit to physician fathers available from medical associations. In British Columbia the then-BCMA started to offer parental leave opportunities to female physicians in 2002. In 2010 the program was expanded to include male physicians. The program also includes male or female physicians expecting a child by adoption or by a surrogate birth mother. The Doctors of BC Parental Leave Program allows male physicians, and specifically those in resident training, to qualify for support. 

So on Father’s Day, Sunday, 16 June, I am going to raise my glass to medical students, residents, and practicing physicians who are expecting to become fathers or who are already fathers, and to all the members and administrators of medically related institutions who are committed to the cultural changes that are necessary to accept, accommodate, and actively support parental leaves of both genders. 
—George Szasz, CM, MD

Suggested reading

Cujec B, Oancia T, Bohm C, Jonson D. Career and parenting satisfaction among medical students, residents and physician teachers at a Canadian medical school. CMAJ 2000;162:637-640.

Lund A. Dr Mom and Dr Dad—Issues in becoming a parent during residency. CJEM 2002;4:298-301.

Morris L, Cronk NJ, Washington KT. Parenting during residency: Providing support for Dr Mom and Dr Dad. Fam Med 2016;48:140-144.

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

Leave a Reply