Viewpoint: Female physicians should get better fertility benefits

Fertility coverage for female physicians should be more substantial, as data suggests female physicians are prone to experiencing higher rates of infertility than the general population, a physician argued in a perspective piece for The New England Journal of Medicine.

The article's author, Erica C. Kaye, MD, who works at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., shared her experience with infertility. In the decade that it took Dr. Kaye to complete residency training, two fellowships and several manuscript and grant submissions, she underwent repeated fertility treatments and miscarried five times.

She is not a unique case among female physicians, she writes, pointing to the largest published study of U.S. female physicians, released in 2016, that shows about 1 in 4 of the 300 physicians studied reported being diagnosed with infertility.

Research also shows that women working in medicine may be pressured to wait until after completing their training to have a child, which means they often are waiting until their peak fertility years have passed.

Dr. Kaye also wrote about the financial burden of infertility. One cycle of in vitro fertilization costs about $15,000 to $25,000. Women seeking donor embryos or surrogates face even higher costs.

Healthcare organizations lag other industries in offering fertility benefits to employees, except in cases where those employees live in states that mandate fertility coverage. Organizations often say offering fertility benefits would be too expensive.

But Dr. Kaye argues that not all female employees will use these benefits. A national report from 2014 shows that of women seeking fertility services, only 3 percent wanted to try IVF, and 7 percent used intrauterine insemination.

She also states that providing fertility coverage to physicians could help improve their emotional well-being and job satisfaction.

"I am grateful to work in a field that strives to improve quality of life for patients and families," she wrote. "Ensuring the health and well-being of the medical workforce is essential to this mission. Infertility is a prevalent and injurious medical issue, and opportunities exist to better support people affected by this disease. My story is not unique: I am one in four."

More articles on integration and physician issues:
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