Doctors Don't Get Maternity Leave Recommended by Doctors

Bret S. Stetka


March 22, 2018

Room for Improvement

Last month, a study published in JAMA[1] reported that many American medical schools don't offer the 12 weeks of maternity leave recommended by physicians. Medscape recently emailed with two of the authors about the significance of the findings. Below are comments from the study's lead and senior authors, research coordinator Nicholas S. Riano and psychiatry professor Christina Mangurian, MD.

Medscape: What was the motivation behind your new study?

Riano: We wanted to expand the paid childbearing leave policy in our department to 12 weeks. We decided to look into policies at other institutions. When I found out that this might be helpful to the school of medicine at large, I decided to look beyond departments and instead at overall school paid leave policies. Once we started doing this, we found out how confusing this was and really thought that we needed to let people know our findings so that women could advocate for the leave they deserve.

Medscape: How was the study conducted?

Riano: First, we identified the medical schools on US News and World Report's top 10 list and the National Institutes of Health's [top 10 highly funded]. . Then we performed an online search for each of the resulting schools' family and childbearing leave policies for academic faculty, collecting and interpreting each policy as we went. Finally, we contacted the administration at each university to ensure that we had accurately interpreted their policies.

Medscape: Can you briefly summarize your findings? Were the results different between physicians and non-MD hospital faculty?

Mangurian: Despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that employers provide 12 weeks of paid childbearing leave based on empirically proven benefits to the mother and child, the average leave length for faculty at major schools of medicine was only about 8 weeks. In addition, most policies were very difficult to understand, were at the discretion of a superior, or only allowed leave to be taken by the child's primary caregiver. We only examined family and childbearing leave policies for academic faculty, so we can't speak to other job categories (staff, medical residents, etc.).

Medscape: Did it surprise you that the majority of institutions included in the research did not grant academic faculty 12 weeks of leave?

Mangurian: Yes and no. Yes, because I wished that more institutions had realized that providing paid family leave was one key way to retain women. No, because I know that medicine is still behind despite decades of women (and men) advocating for this. But we'll catch up; there are lots of amazing women leaders and men who are allies fighting for this.

Medscape: What are the benefits of the 12 weeks of leave as recommended by the AAP?

Mangurian: The benefits are profound to both the mother and child, and include lower infant mortality rates, better infant health, longer duration of breastfeeding, lower maternal mortality and better maternal physical health, and lower rates of maternal depression.

Medscape: Do you have any related follow-up research planned?

Riano: We are currently in the planning stages of follow-up research. We'd like to explore these policies as they apply to residents and further understand how better policies contribute to retention of women faculty. Ultimately, we'd love to see this research promote more inclusive policies that apply to all parents (including, for example, adoptees, fathers, domestic partners, same-sex couples, surrogate parents) and promote policies that are easy to understand and straightforward to benefit from, without supervisor restrictions or primary caregiver requirements.


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