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Discrimination reported in survey of online group of physician moms

The JAMA Network Journals

In a survey of an online community of physician mothers about perceived workplace discrimination, nearly 4 out of 5 respondents reported discrimination, with two-thirds reporting gender discrimination and one-third reporting maternal discrimination, according to a new article published by JAMA Internal Medicine.

How motherhood affects perceived discrimination among women physicians is not well known. Eleni Linos, M.D., Dr.P.H., of the University of California, San Francisco, and coauthors turned to the popular online community the Physician Moms Group to take a look. The group has more than 60,000 physician members who self-identify as mothers, including adoptive and foster parents.

For their research letter, the authors analyzed 5,782 survey responses from physician mothers, of whom 4,507 (77.9 percent) reported any type of discrimination. More specifically, 3,833 (66.3 percent) reported gender discrimination and 2,070 (35.8 percent) reported maternal discrimination based on pregnancy, maternity leave or breastfeeding. Of the women reporting maternal discrimination, 1,854 (89.6 percent) reported discrimination based on pregnancy or maternity leave and 1,002 (48.4 percent) reported discrimination based on breastfeeding, according to the results.

Maternal discrimination also was associated with higher self-reported burnout. Among the 2,070 physician mothers who reported maternal discrimination, the most common reported displays of it were disrespectful treatment by nursing or other support staff (52.9 percent), not being included in administrative decision-making (39.2 percent) and pay and benefits not equal to their male peers (31.5 percent), the article reports.

Also, women physicians who reported maternal discrimination were more likely to value changes in the workplace that included longer paid maternity leave, backup child care and support for breastfeeding compared with physicians who did not report maternal discrimination, the results showed.

The study notes limitations including survey design, a low response rate and possible selection bias if those women who experience discrimination are more likely to participate in a support group.

"Despite substantial increases in the number of female physicians - the majority of whom are mothers - our findings suggest that gender-based discrimination remains common in medicine, and that discrimination specifically based on motherhood is an important reason. To promote gender equity and retain high-quality physicians, employers should implement policies that reduce maternal discrimination and support gender equity such as longer paid maternity leave, backup child care, lactation support and increased schedule flexibility," the research letter concludes.



Editor's Note: The article contains conflict of interest and funding/support disclosures. Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Related material: The related research letter, "Workplace Factors Associated with Burnout of Family Physicians," by Monee Rassolian, M.D., of Michigan State University, Flint, and coauthors, along with the Viewpoint article, "Mother's Day for Women in Medicine - Better Than Roses," by the mother-daughter pair Marcia Angell, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, Boston, and Lara Goitein, M.D., of Christus St. Vincent Regional Hospital, Santa Fe, N.M., also are available on the For The Media website.

Related audio material: An interview with the authors is available for preview on the For The Media website. The podcast will be live when the embargo lifts on the JAMA Internal Medicine website.

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