February 13, 2018 / 7:16 PM / 3 months ago

Medical schools don’t offer doctor-recommended parental leave

(Reuters Health) - Physicians at some of the nation’s most elite medical schools don’t receive three months of paid parental leave that doctors recommend for the health of mothers and babies, a U.S. study has found.

“Despite the strong evidence base supporting the beneficial effects of at least 12 weeks of paid childbearing leave for the physical and mental health of mother and child, we are surprised that the average paid leave across schools was only about 8 weeks,” said senior study author Dr. Christina Mangurian of the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

“Most policies were also really hard to understand and are at the discretion of the supervisor – both of which put women faculty at a disadvantage at getting leave they deserve,” Mangurian said by email.

The American Academy of Pediatrics supports three months of paid family leave, researchers note in JAMA. Among other things, this supports breastfeeding and makes it more likely that newborns will get all of their necessary vaccinations and well-baby checkups.

For the study, researchers examined leave policies at 12 medical schools that were ranked highly by U.S. News & World Report for both academics and funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Researchers searched for details on the duration of parental leave, eligibility and pay policies on the websites for each school.

Overall, the schools offered an average of 8.6 weeks of leave at full pay, with policies ranging from six to 16 weeks, the study found. Four schools provided more than eight weeks of paid support.

Counting paid and unpaid time off, the average length of family leave was almost 18 weeks, and ranged from 2 to 52 weeks.

Most family leave policies came with a lot of caveats, including three schools that permitted this only with permission from a supervisor and five schools that offered it only for a primary caregiver.

Some details also were vague. For example, three schools had ambiguous wording about the duration of leave, and most left it unclear who was eligible to apply.

Beyond its small size and focus on only a dozen schools, other limitations of the analysis include the potential that up-to-date policies weren’t posted online and the lack of data on how different leave policies might impact faculty retention.

It’s possible, however, that an inadequate leave policy may be a missed opportunity to keep more young physicians in the profession, said Dr. Anupam Jena, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“Medicine is already at an all-time high in terms of ‘burnout’ and given how difficult the first months of parenthood is to parents, this is a critical time where additional preparation to young mothers and fathers of balancing work and family life would be useful,” Jena, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“That would seem to be an excellent time for employers to ‘step up’ to support their employees,” Jena added. “Shortchanging this time helps no one.”

Inadequate parental leave policies can also contribute to gender disparities in pay and professional advancement in the medical profession, said Dr. Constance Guille, a researcher at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

“Parenthood has been associated with reduced work hours for female physicians, but not male physicians, resulting in a reduction in pay as well as decreased opportunities for promotion or leadership positions for women,” Guille, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“Until we can create policies and a culture that allows both men and women to be both parents and physicians, we are unlikely to close the gap in physician salaries and retain and advance women in medicine,” Guille added.

SOURCE: bit.ly/2o3zcB6 JAMA, online February 13, 2018.

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