Why having a baby may prevent women from pursuing surgical residencies

Many female surgical residents are forgoing maternity leave following pregnancy — against the advice of their own physicians — in an effort to complete their residency programs within a relatively normal timeframe, Bloomberg reports.

While residency training is imperative to incurring additional knowledge physicians will use later in their careers, the additional training may not be conducive for female residents hoping to start a family earlier in life, according to the report. The difficulty of having children while completing residency may be discouraging female residents from becoming surgeons altogether, according to a survey conducted by researchers at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital.

For the study, researchers surveyed 347 active surgeons who identified as being pregnant during their residencies. Of those surveyed, slightly under half said they considered quitting their residency program during that time, while roughly one-third of women said they wouldn't recommend female medical students become surgeons, according to the Bloomberg report.

The relative inflexibility of most residency programs may also contribute to the gender pay gap that often forms between male and female physicians, according to the report. While students of both genders enter into medical school in relatively equal numbers, female physicians often earn less than men, in part because they enter into lower-paying specialties. Bloomberg reports 44 percent of U.S. medical residents were women in 2016. However, females comprised 66 percent of pediatric residents, but only 36 percent of surgical residents, the report states.

While some programs do provide maternity leave, many residents do not utilize the full time off. Because residency programs run on such strict schedules, taking extra time off to have a baby may affect a resident's timeline for training or potentially disqualify her from completing her board exams, which are only given once a year, the report states. Compared with other specialty programs — such as University of California-San Francisco's pediatric residency program, which pays for six weeks of maternity leave on top of standard paid vacation and allows residents to take up to six months of unpaid leave — surgical residencies may not be the best fit for those seeking to start a family.

To read the full report, click here.

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