Colorado med school's 'parenting elective' cuts new mom, dad stress for pediatric residents

A med school class elective that turns pediatric residents' parenting of their own infants into a structured training program has succeeded in giving residents more time with their newborns while alleviating the stress of lost income.

In 2010, the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora created a four-week, non-core elective to address the lack of leave for physicians completing their pediatric residencies. When the elective was established, pediatric residents had to use vacation days if they wanted paid time off to spend with their newborn or adopted children. Some residents took unpaid time off under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

The elective combines real-world parenting activities and traditional educational components, such as attending a child wellness check and giving a presentation to other pediatric residents on on something learned about pediatrics.

Residents receive full pay while taking the elective. All mothers and partners who have a new child, either biological or adopted, are eligible to take the class.

Now a study examining the results of the program for the first time since its implementation shows it's paying dividends for the residents.

Researchers studied 22 pregnancies among pediatric residents prior to implementation and 42 afterward.

Among mothers, the minimum amount of time that residents spent at home after bringing home an infant increased from two to six weeks. The percentage of mothers taking seven weeks or more to be at home increased from 54 percent to 96 percent.

Mothers using unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act time decreased from 38 percent to 7 percent.

Fathers, or partners, also took more time to be at home, with 79 percent taking four or more weeks to be with their newborns, compared to none before the elective was implemented.

On-time graduation and post-residency training rates for mothers and their partners were similar before and after implementation of the elective.

"We found that implementation of a parenting elective providing up to four weeks of paid time at home, significantly improved income and academic outcomes in pediatric residents, while markedly increasing resident time devoted to parenting," study authors wrote.

The study is published in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

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