Omid Nosrati

Study finds physician mothers are not immune to workplace discrimination

While there is a tendency to think that certain white collar professions are perhaps immune to discrimination owing to the education, skill set and education of workers, this is far from the reality.

Indeed, those harboring any doubts should consider a recently published study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at the University of California San Francisco examining the degree to which physicians who are mothers have experienced discrimination.

The researchers, motivated by the conversations found on the message boards of a 70,000-plus physician-mother online community, devised a survey asking these same physician mothers about their general health, burnout and any on-the-job inequity they've experienced.

Somewhat shockingly, the nearly 6,000 respondents to the survey, who practice across a wide range of specialties and settings, revealed the following about their experiences in the medical field:

  • 78 percent indicated that they'd experienced some manner of discrimination while on the job
  • 66 percent indicated that they'd experienced some manner of gender discrimination while on the job
  • 39 percent indicated that they experienced disrespectful treatment on the part of co-workers from rude behavior by nurses and staff to exclusion from administrative decision-making and lower salaries than male colleagues
  • 35 percent indicated that they'd experienced some manner of maternal discrimination on the job with 32 percent saying it was related to pregnancy/maternity leave, and 17 percent saying it was related to breast-feeding in the workplace

The findings are especially important, say the researchers, given that half of all physicians are now women.

“Women physicians play such a crucial role in caring for patients, caring for their children and also teaching the next generation of physicians, and we really need to support them in the workplace,” said one of the primary authors.

To that end, some steps identified by the surveyed physician-mothers for promoting gender equality and improving the overall workplace included:

  • Greater flexibility in weekday schedules
  • Salaries commensurate with male colleagues
  • Extended periods of paid maternity leave
  • Part-time work options
  • On-site childcare
  • Ability not to work on weekends
  • Additional sick time

This is a truly eye-opening study. Here's hoping the medical community is open to these and other changes …

If you believe you've been victimized by any form of workplace discrimination and would like to learn more about your options, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can explain the law, answer your questions and pursue solutions.    

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