Building a family presents challenges for physicians and medical students
By Richard Westlund
Illustration by Keith Alexander Lee
t takes a long time to become a physician, but it can take even longer to become a parent.
“Physicians often delay starting their families because medical education, training and starting a practice take many years,” said Morgan Levy, a fourth-year M.D./M.P.H. student planning a career in obstetrics/gynecology. Levy, who led a national study that highlighted those challenges, noted that the median age of first birth for physicians is 32 years, compared with 27 years for non-physicians. “For physicians who desire children, the family-building journey is often complicated by infertility issues, relationship stresses and regrets over delaying childbearing.”
Levy conducted the research with her mentor, Alberto J. Caban-Martinez, D.O., Ph.D., M.P.H, associate provost for research integrity, regulatory affairs and assessment, M.D./M.P.H. program deputy director, and vice chair for research and associate professor of public health sciences, along with medical students and professionals from New York University, Stanford University, Northwestern University and the University of Chicago.
“It is important to address reproductive and family-building issues in the physician workforce, since the training is a long process,” Dr. Caban-Martinez said. “We need to think about developing more supportive policies and strategies, so professionals don’t feel they need to choose between work and family.”
“Because family building affects everyone, we wanted to include women, men and members of the LGBTQ community, as well,” Levy said. “We know that it’s not just women who can benefit from discussing the psychological issues associated with childbearing.”
About 90% of the 3,310 respondents who completed the survey were women, and most expressed a desire for biological children, Levy said. Almost two-thirds delayed childbearing due to training, and many regretted doing so. The most common reason cited for delaying having children was “residency requires too many hours at work, which makes parenting difficult.”
Other findings point to the psychosocial burdens related to family bearing, especially when assisted reproductive technology was involved. About 28% of respondents reported that fertility issues affected their well-being, and 14% cited negative impacts on their relationships with spouses and partners.