Female Gastroenterologists Navigate Range of Pregnancy-Related Challenges

(Reuters Health) – Female gastroenterologists can encounter a wide range of pregnancy-related challenges in their careers, including the risk of radiation exposure as well as limited time and compensation for maternity leave, a recent study suggests.

To assess experiences related to pregnancy, researchers distributed an anonymous online survey to female gastroenterology fellows and attendings in the U.S., ultimately achieving a sample of 200 respondents. The majority of women surveyed (60.5%) had at least one previous pregnancy, and most women with a prior pregnancy (93.4%) had children (mean 2 children). Most women without a prior pregnancy (92.3%) said they were considering having children in the future.

Most women (67%) said they thought the amount of maternity leave offered by their employer was too brief to allow enough time for recovery from delivery and bonding with newborns. More than half (58.2%) were given less than 12 weeks of maternity leave and some (6.8%) received no leave at all.

Even when they did get leave, most of these women (61.9%) didn’t take all of the maternity leave they were allowed, with the most common reason being financial concerns or concerns about delayed graduation or the impact on career advancement.

“We as clinicians need to lobby our professional societies, accreditation bodies, and medical specialty boards to develop policies that advocate for adequate compensated and protected parental leave,” said study leader Dr. David Yakira, a gastroenterology fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

“These policies should additionally provide guidance on scheduling adjustments for adequate break time to facilitate breast milk pumping between patient encounters, as well as standardized methods for reducing personal and fetal occupational radiation exposure,” Dr. Yakira said by email.

Many female gastroenterologists who did take maternity leave (39.5%) reported significant decreases in compensation as a result, the study team reports in Gastroenterology.

One in 10 women surveyed said their maternity leave resulted in a delayed graduation, while one in five said maternity leave had resulted in delayed promotions.

All the advanced endoscopy gastroenterologists in the survey (n=22) reported maintaining their normal case load throughout pregnancy. Many of them (45%) used double-lead aprons during fluoroscopy and adjusted their practices based on measurements from radiation monitors. Some, however, avoided all fluoroscopy during pregnancy (22.7%).

Radiation exposure and leaded aprons are concerns faced by gastroenterology fellows during pregnancy that aren’t encountered in many other specialties, said Dr. Susan Thompson Hingle, associate dean for human and organizational potential at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.

“Not unique to gastroenterology, training programs do not have a deep bench of people who can fill in and do the work when someone takes parental leave,” Dr. Hingle, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “A shift in mentality to a true learning and training environment, instead of a fellows-as-service-providers can help – perhaps employing more advance-practice nurses and physician assistants can be helpful.”

SOURCE: https://bit.ly/2SBemME Gastroenterology, online June 1, 2021.

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