Physician Health Program report on medicine and motherhood

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 52, No. 4, May 2010, page(s) 224 Pulsimeter

A new report released in March by the BC Physician Health Program recommends better workplace arrangements for pregnant and new mother physicians. 

The report, Medicine and Motherhood: Can We Talk? recommends making accommodations for physicians who are pregnant, as well as physicians who are new mothers, to ensure that the record number of women entering medical practice are able to maintain their careers while attending to their needs as mothers.

While existing labor legislation supports pregnant women in other pro­fessions, the vast majority of phy­sicians are self-employed and must therefore have conversations with their colleagues, hospital administrators, and others to find mutually acceptable solutions to ensure maternal and fetal health and well-being.

The report notes that in the prevailing medical culture, attending to one’s own needs can be seen as a sign of weakness, and as a result female phy­sicians can think they should do everything for their patients while neglecting their own basic needs during or after pregnancy—such as getting proper nutrition and adequate sleep.

Recommendations in the report include:

• Reduce or eliminate requirements for nighttime responsibilities (shifts, on-call duties) for pregnant physicians from 24 weeks’ gestation onward. 

• Adjust work hours to allow for rest and proper nutrition. 

• Ensure that pregnant residents and employees have at least 2 consecutive days off per week and work no more than 5 consecutive days without time off. 

• Reduce work activities for pregnant physicians in situations of high job fatigue (e.g., over 40 hours per week). 

• Provide health-related leave lasting 6 to 13 (or more) weeks postpartum depending on the circumstances of the birth, keeping in mind that Canadian labor law provides for maternity leave of up to 1 year. 

• Create a workplace that is progressive in promoting benefits for women who combine medicine and motherhood by facilitating part-time and shared-practice models. 

• Provide support (private space, equipment) and time (including coverage for absences) for mothers who are breastfeeding and expressing milk. 

• Engage in discussions with new physician-parents about return to work well in advance of actual return. 

The full report can be viewed at