Residents, Fellows Will Get Minimum 6 Weeks Leave for Caregiving

Marcia Frellick

July 15, 2020

Starting July 1, 2021, residents and fellows will be allowed a minimum 6 weeks away for medical leave or caregiving once during training, without having to use vacation or sick leave and without having to extend their training, the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) has announced.

The "ABMS Policy on Parental, Caregiver and Family Leave" announced Monday was developed after a report from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's (ACGME) Council of Review Committee Residents in June 2019.

Richard E. Hawkins, MD, ABMS President and CEO, said in a statement, "The growing shifts in viewpoints regarding work-life balance and parental roles had a great influence in the creation of this policy, which fosters an environment that supports our trainees' ability to care not only for patients, but also for themselves and their families."

Specifically, the time can be taken for birth and care of a newborn, adopting a child, or becoming a foster parent; care of a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition; or the trainee's own serious health condition. The policy applies to member boards with training programs of at least 2 years.

Boards must communicate when a leave will require an official extension to avoid disruptions to a physician's career trajectory, a delay in starting a fellowship, or moving into a salaried position.

Work/life balance was by far the biggest challenge reported in the Medscape Residents Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2019.

Several member boards had already implemented policies that offered more flexibility without unduly delaying board certification; now ABMS is extending that to all boards.

ABMS says member boards may limit the maximum time away in a single year or level of training and directed member boards to "make reasonable testing accommodations" — for example, by allowing candidates to take an exam provided the candidate completes all training requirements by a certain date.

Kristy Rialon, MD, an author of the ACGME report and assistant professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, noted the significance of the change in a news release.

"By virtue of their ages, residents and fellows — male and female — often find themselves having and raising children, as well as serving as family members' caregivers," Rialon said.  "By adopting more realistic and compassionate approaches, the ABMS Member Boards will significantly improve the quality of life for residents and fellows. This also will support our female physicians, helping to narrow the gender gap in their career advancement by allowing for greater leave flexibility."

A Medscape survey published today said work-life balance was the number one concern of female physicians, far outpacing pay.

Marcia Frellick is a freelance journalist based in Chicago. She has previously written for the Chicago Tribune and Nurse.com and was an editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and the St. Cloud (Minnesota) Times. Follow her on Twitter at @mfrellick

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