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Author Q&A: GI needs better parental leave policies

Six women in GI come together to create a blueprint for parental leave policies and outline why the field needs to be more inclusive about returning to work and parenthood.
Asian mother and young baby sit in front of laptop working
Asian mother and young baby sit in front of laptop working

This month’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in GI section of both Gastroenterology and Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology features the article, “Parental Leave and Return-to-Work Policies: A Practical Model for Implementation in Gastroenterology.” 

The authors note that this article can serve as a roadmap for institutions and practices to create a parental leave policy and return-to-work environment that attracts talent and supports a diverse and thriving workforce. 

Despite a joint statement by the four main gastroenterology societies more than 25 years ago, few structural changes have been implemented to mandate a minimum of 12 weeks of parental leave for gastroenterologists. 

Dr. Lauren Feld

We asked one of the article’s authors, Dr. Lauren Feld, a few questions about the motivation behind this article and the movement at large.

What motivated you and your co-authors to write this article? ​

“It was a pleasure working with my co-authors – an incredible team of gender equity experts – Drs. Amy Oxentenko, Dawn Sears, Aline Charabaty, Loren Rabinowitz and Julie Silver. 

I’m grateful to Dr. May and Dr. Quezada for the invitation to write about the important topic of creating family-friendly work environments. My coauthors and I have noticed increasing support for women in medicine and for balancing parenthood and medical careers; however, many questions remain regarding practical implementation and next steps. This piece was designed to serve as an outline for tangible actions that leadership can take to support a more diverse workforce in gastroenterology.”

Why is this issue important?

“Nationwide, women are leaving clinical and academic medicine at alarming rates. The incompatibility of parenthood with a traditional medical career has been identified as a major driver of retention issues across specialties. In addition to impacting retention, incompatibility with pregnancy and parenthood also impacts recruitment. Survey studies of internal medicine residents have identified concerns about family life as a major barrier to choosing gastroenterology as a specialty. Women in medicine have worked too hard to get to where they are to be excluded from or driven out of our field. 

Beyond the impact on the physicians, there is a major impact on patients. Studies have identified that women patients’ preference for a woman endoscopist as well as the difficulty in finding women endoscopists has created a barrier to colon cancer screening for women. Areas of research have also gone understudied because they primarily impact women patients. We must work towards equity for the benefit of both physicians and patients.” 

What actions can practicing GI doctors take now to help support better parental leave and return to work policies?

“Start by reviewing this article and asking your Human Resources for your employer’s policies in this area. If your employer doesn’t have a parental leave policy, or if their policy is inadequate, discuss the importance of this with your leadership. Describing the cost impact of physicians leaving practice is a good way to justify the cost investment to support family friendly policies.”

The authors recommend policies outlined in the paper be consistent across genders with attention to equity for the LGBTQ+ community. The blueprint for parental leave and return to work department policies includes:  

  • Specific policies to support physicians during pregnancy, including endoscopy ergonomic accommodations. 
  • Components of a parental leave policy such as duration and adjusted RVUs to account for leave. 
  • Coverage models to consider during leave.  
  • How to create a family friendly return to work, including modified overnight call during postpartum and autonomy over schedule.  
  • Training considerations, such as competency-based assessments instead of time based. 
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