The challenge for institutions is to take a longer view of the arc of women’s careers, Dr. Woodson added. “There is extra time that has to be invested sometimes in women earlier in their careers, and I think that is daunting to people,” she said.
Explore This IssueMarch 2010
Jo Shapiro, MD, chief of otolaryngology and director of the Center for Professionalism and Peer Support at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, encourages women interested in surgery to challenge their internal perceptions about the field—that being a surgeon necessitates foregoing a family.
What women can do is vary their career trajectory in concert with their children’s needs, she said. “The first thing is for the professional herself to admit, ‘I do want it all, but perhaps I cannot have it all at the same time,’” she said. “It’s because I’m juggling home and work that I want my work to be deeply engaging and meaningful. I tell students, ‘You better choose work that makes it worth the juggling!’”
While it is often believed that women’s specialty choices are determined by lifestyle factors, one study showed that men are just as likely to choose a specialty with more “controllable lifestyles” such as predictable work schedules, and that, over time, women were slightly more likely to choose an uncontrollable lifestyle specialty than were men (Acad Med. 2005;80(9):797-802).
Nevertheless, women bear the children and the brunt of childcare care often falls to them, especially in a two-career marriage. Careful balancing is required, as are creative solutions. Dr. Bradford emphasized a pragmatic approach to workforce issues. Most important is a department or practice with the willingness to “pitch in” when crises arise.
Some institutions, such as the Johns Hopkins Medical Center, offer on-site infant and child day care for employees and house staff. She also urges all young faculty, men and women alike, to have contingency plans for children’s sick days, snow days and other unexpected family events.
Drs. Woodson and Brodsky, both members of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), said general surgeons are beginning to address fundamental change as part of their strategy to attract and retain women. For instance, Dr. Woodson, who is chair of ACS’ residency education committee, noted that more of her ACS colleagues are discussing maternal leave policies and altering call schedules.