Physicians lead MomDocFamily support group

Being a mother is one of life’s most difficult jobs. Getting through medical training and then juggling clinical practice, teaching, and research at the local university make the rigors of motherhood infinitely more challenging.

A group of physician-mothers – led by Amy S. Gottlieb, MD, director of primary care curricula and consultation at the Women’s Primary Care Center at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, and Lynn E. Taylor, MD, an HIV/AIDS specialist at The Miriam Hospital — has found that there is strength, and sanity, in numbers.

The support group MomDocFamily was created in 2003 by two Brown-trained doctors and now boasts a membership of 230 female physicians or physicians-in-training. The organization, led by two co-directors and a five-person advisory board, provides mentorship and support for women physicians who are combining a medical career with motherhood, and advocates for family-friendly policies within what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.

“We are a multidisciplinary group representing all stages of careers and medical training,” Dr. Gottlieb said. “We are committed to supporting one another’s efforts to attain professional success and personal satisfaction.”

As a large mentoring network whose membership is based primarily in New England, MomDocFamily also has a longstanding partnership with the Office of Women in Medicine and Science at Brown University. Its physician members believe that by sharing their career and parenting strategies, they can help one another navigate the delicate balance between medicine and motherhood.

Dr. Gottlieb, who is also an assistant professor of medicine and obstetrics-gynecology (clinical) at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, knows the challenges of juggling both roles as she faces a calendar packed with teaching commitments, office hours and time with her 14-year-old daughter.

“It is incredibly difficult to divide your time and attention between work and family. Both, however, are important to me, and I have enjoyed learning how to make it work better,” she said.

While the group’s mission is to support physician mothers as they juggle both demanding roles, MomDocFamily also seeks to advocate for them in the workplace by initiating systems-based change. In a recent article in the professional journal Academic Medicine, Drs. Gottlieb, Taylor and Beatrice E. Lechner points to the need for medical institutions to address the unique needs of physician-mothers.

“Most mentoring programs focus on classical aspects of junior faculty development, such as grant-writing and the promotion process,” their article reads. “However, these programs do not address the reality that female physician-parents are providing the majority of child care and management in their homes and thus parsing their energy between professional and personal commitments in a way male physician-parents are not.

“This undoubtedly contributes to the inadequate advancement of women in medicine.”

A survey the group conducted of their membership in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts bolsters their assertions. Of the 128 mother physicians surveyed, 1% had partners who did not work outside the home; 3% had a partner who worked less than full-time; 6% reported that their partners were more responsible than they for household duties; and 4% reported that their partners were more responsible than they for child care.

“An expected consequence of tending to these demands is surely decreased time devoted to professional endeavors and possibly diminished career success,” the article reads.

The answer, MomDocFamily members suggest, is innovative mentoring programs and workplace infrastructure that supports physicians who are also mothers. This includes implementing robust parental leave policies, improving access to lactation facilities, and offering flexible work schedules.

To learn more about the MomDocFamily strategy for workforce development, go to the group’s website at http://biomed.brown.edu/owims/MomDocFamily.

About Women & Infants Hospital

Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, a Care New England hospital, is one of the nation’s leading specialty hospitals for women and newborns and a U.S.News Best Hospital in Gynecology. The primary teaching affiliate of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University for obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics, as well as a number of specialized programs in women’s medicine, Women & Infants is the seventh largest obstetrical service in the country with more than 9,000 deliveries per year. In 2009, Women & Infants opened the country’s largest, single-family room neonatal intensive care unit.

New England’s premier hospital for women and newborns, Women & Infants and Brown offer fellowship programs in gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology and reconstructive pelvic surgery, neonatal-perinatal medicine, pediatric and perinatal pathology, gynecologic pathology and cytopathology, and reproductive endocrinology and infertility, as well as the nation’s only fellowship program in obstetric medicine.

Women & Infants has been designated as a Breast Center of Excellence from the American College of Radiography; a Center for In Vitro Maturation Excellence by SAGE In Vitro Fertilization; a Center of Biomedical Research Excellence by the National Institutes of Health; and a Neonatal Resource Services Center of Excellence. It is one of the largest and most prestigious research facilities in high risk and normal obstetrics, gynecology and newborn pediatrics in the nation, and is a member of the National Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Oncology Group.

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