Medical residents have historically delayed becoming a parent during residency due to conflicting demands despite being at an age when many people start families.

Not starting a family because of your career might be a prevalent practice, however, evidence suggests that parenting during residency is becoming increasingly common. Support during pregnancy is offered by most residency programs, but formal approaches to supporting parenting residents beyond the immediate birth of their children are lacking. “This area of medicine is often discussed casually among residents and academic physicians,” says Laura Morris, MD, MSPH, “but there isn’t much research in this area.”

An Exploratory Analysis

For a qualitative study published in Family Medicine, Dr. Morris and colleagues used focus groups of parenting family medicine residents in a program in the Midwest to better understand perceptions of the positive and negative characteristics of work and personal roles as parents and partners. “Participants shared their struggles, goals, and hopes about this important time in their lives,” says Dr. Morris. “We used consensus coding to identify themes in the data and then developed a model of some specific relationships among these themes.”

Overall, parenting residents felt conflicted in the roles they have to fill, according to Dr. Morris. “They wanted to be good at everything but felt they were being pulled in different areas so much so that it was often a struggle and quite stressful. The degree to which parenting residents felt that stress was significant. Resident parents wanted more attention paid to the struggles they face and expressed a desire for developing structures within training that would support their quality of life.” She adds that flexibility and more control over schedules are important needs for resident parents.

The structure of residency in general is fairly rigid and regulated by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and other bodies, says Dr. Morris. “Many residents feel constrained and want more support,” she says. “They wanted to work in places where they could incorporate their family into their work lives and wanted clearer policies for parental leave.”

Applying the Findings

Dr. Morris feels the study findings are applicable across medical specialties and throughout different areas in the United States. “Although this was a limited study population, there are certain features that cut across residency programs regardless of specialty or geographic location in the U.S.,” she says. “

The culture of medicine needs to be supportive of learners and peers at all stages of family life and development, Dr. Morris says. “For medicine to remain a viable career option for the next generation of students, changes in medicine as a whole are needed,” she says. “We still must maintain educational standards and residency training, but patients also want physicians who can function in multiple roles and have personal lives and job satisfaction. Our study gets to the root of how that starts and focuses on residents, but these themes are present through all areas and stages of medicine.”

Laura Morris, MD, MSPH, has indicated to Physician’s Weekly that she has no financial interests to disclose.

References

Morris L, Cronk N, Washington K. Parenting during residency: providing support for Dr. mom and Dr. dad. Fam Med. 2016:48-140-144. Available at www.stfm.org/Portals/49/Documents/FMPDF/FamilyMedicineVol48Issue2Morris140.pdf.

Hutchinson A, Anderson N, Gochnour G, Stewart C. Pregnancy and childbirth during family medicine residency training. Fam Med. 2011;43:160-165.

MacDonald K. Relishing the moment. having a baby in residency. Can Fam Physician. 2003;49:1156-1157, 1164-1165.

Jagsi R, Tarbell N, Weinstein D. Becoming a doctor, starting a family—leaves of absence from graduate medical education. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:1889-1891.