Being a mother is one of life's most difficult jobs. Getting through medical training and then juggling clinical practice, teaching, and research at the local university make the rigors of motherhood infinitely more challenging.

A group of physician-mothers - led by Amy S. Gottlieb, MD, director of primary care curricula and consultation at the Women's Primary Care Center at Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, and Lynn E. Taylor, MD, an HIV/AIDS specialist at The Miriam Hospital - has found that there is strength, and sanity, in numbers.

The support group MomDocFamily was created in 2003 by two Brown-trained doctors and now boasts a membership of 230 female physicians or physicians-in-training. The organization, led by two co-directors and a five-person advisory board, provides mentorship and support for women physicians who are combining a medical career with motherhood, and advocates for family-friendly policies within what has traditionally been a male-dominated field.

"We are a multidisciplinary group representing all stages of careers and medical training," Dr. Gottlieb said. "We are committed to supporting one another's efforts to attain professional success and personal satisfaction."

As a large mentoring network whose membership is based primarily in New England, MomDocFamily also has a longstanding partnership with the Office of Women in Medicine and Science at Brown University. Its physician members believe that by sharing their career and parenting strategies, they can help one another navigate the delicate balance between medicine and motherhood.

Dr. Gottlieb, who is also an assistant professor of medicine and obstetrics-gynecology (clinical) at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, knows the challenges of juggling both roles as she faces a calendar packed with teaching commitments, office hours and time with her 14-year-old daughter.

"It is incredibly difficult to divide your time and attention between work and family. Both, however, are important to me, and I have enjoyed learning how to make it work better," she said.

While the group's mission is to support physician mothers as they juggle both demanding roles, MomDocFamily also seeks to advocate for them in the workplace by initiating systems-based change. In a recent article in the professional journal Academic Medicine, Drs. Gottlieb, Taylor and Beatrice E. Lechner points to the need for medical institutions to address the unique needs of physician-mothers.

"Most mentoring programs focus on classical aspects of junior faculty development, such as grant-writing and the promotion process," their article reads. "However, these programs do not address the reality that female physician-parents are providing the majority of child care and management in their homes and thus parsing their energy between professional and personal commitments in a way male physician-parents are not.

"This undoubtedly contributes to the inadequate advancement of women in medicine."

A survey the group conducted of their membership in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts bolsters their assertions. Of the 128 mother physicians surveyed, 1% had partners who did not work outside the home; 3% had a partner who worked less than full-time; 6% reported that their partners were more responsible than they for household duties; and 4% reported that their partners were more responsible than they for child care.

"An expected consequence of tending to these demands is surely decreased time devoted to professional endeavors and possibly diminished career success," the article reads.

The answer, MomDocFamily members suggest, is innovative mentoring programs and workplace infrastructure that supports physicians who are also mothers. This includes implementing robust parental leave policies, improving access to lactation facilities, and offering flexible work schedules.

Susan McDonald
Women & Infants Hospital