Paid parental leave? Don’t expect much at medical schools

Many offer little or no paid leave, and some also require faculty to take sick or vacation time, a new study finds. Researchers say it could be contributing to burnout.

Many top medical schools offer little or no paid parental leave, and it’s another factor that could be driving some out of medicine, a recent study suggests.

The researchers examined medical schools ranked by U.S. News & World Report and found data on leave policies at 87 institutions.

Among those, 63 medical schools (72.4%) offered some paid leave for birth mothers, but only 13 (14.9%) provided 12 weeks of fully paid leave, the study found.

The study found 38 medical schools (43.7%) had no paid leave for partners, while only 11 medical schools offered 12 weeks of full paid leave for non-birth parents. The findings were published Jan. 23 in Jama Network Open.

“Many physician faculty receive no or very limited paid parental leave,” the authors wrote.

“The lack of paid parental leave was associated with higher rates of physician burnout and work-life integration dissatisfaction and may further perpetuate sex, racial and ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in academic medicine,” the authors wrote.

The researchers found 37 medical schools (42.5%) didn’t provide paid leave at full salary for the birth mother. And 24 schools (27.6%) didn’t provide any paid leave for birth mothers and required them to use vacation, sick, or short-term disability leave to have any parental leave.

“The lack of financial support for birth mothers may partially explain why, despite women accounting for about half of medical school matriculates, women in academic medicine still remain a minority, are less likely to be promoted, are less likely to be in leadership positions, and are paid less compared with their male colleagues,” the authors wrote.

By requiring physicians to use sick or vacation time for parental leave, they have less time for vacations or to deal with the illness of a child, and that likely adds to the burnout among physicians, researchers said.

In the study, researchers noted that many women wait to have children until they’ve completed their rigorous medical training. When women physicians join the faculty of medical schools, they should be supported when they are ready to begin starting families, the authors said.

“Favorable parental leave policies for faculty physicians are crucial to prevent physician workforce attrition,” the researchers wrote.

The authors of the study called for medical schools to offer clear and inclusive policies providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

“Adequate paid parental leave is crucial to physician well-being,” they wrote.

Women faculty in medical schools also deal with other hardships. One out of three women faculty members (34%) have experienced sexual harassment within the previous 12 months, according to a study by the Association of American Medical Colleges released last summer.

The AAMC has pointed to a growing physician shortage and is aiming to get more doctors, and more women, in medicine. Over the last four years, women have outnumbered men in medical schools, according to AAMC data. This year, women accounted for 57% of applicants and 54% of the total enrollment in medical schools, the AAMC said.

But analysts have also pointed out that it’s not enough to encourage women to get into medical school and to become doctors. The industry needs to do a better job in supporting them to stay in the field.

Women physicians have suffered bigger career setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a November 2021 study published in Jama Network Open.

Michael Dill, director of workforce studies for the AAMC, said in a November 2021 panel discussion that 40% of women doctors go part-time or leave medicine within six years of completing their residency.

“If we want to address the shortage, we need to support women,” Dill said.

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