Physician mothers face “insidious, persistent, and sometimes blatant” discrimination related to their status as working mothers, according to research published in the BMJ.

Eleni Linos, MD, MPH, DrPH, of the Department of Dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and colleagues conducted a qualitative analysis of responses to a survey question posed to clinician mothers regarding their experiences with workplace discrimination as working mothers.

Although 53% of medical school graduates are women, there is widespread evidence of continued gender discrimination against female physicians. Estimates suggest than 80% of women physicians are or will become mothers, adding an additional layer of discrimination to their experience as physicians. 

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Researchers analyzed 947 free text responses to the survey questions; all responses were anonymous and voluntary. Participants were part of the Facebook group Physician Moms Group, an “online community of US physicians who identify as mothers.” The median age of survey respondents was 39 (range, 24 to 62) and the median number of children was 2 (range, 0 to 6); survey respondents were majority white (74.2%). In addition, most participants were residency-trained practicing physicians (90%) who worked more than 40 hours per week.

Key themes identified included issues with gendered job expectations, financial inequalities, limited advancement opportunities, lack of support during pregnancy and postpartum, and challenges with work-life balance. The “diverse and vivid” descriptions also included participant quotes illustrating the possible structural drivers of this maternal discrimination, as well as “the downstream consequences of maternal discrimination on the physician herself, her career, family, and the healthcare system.”

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“Our findings suggest insidious, persistent, and sometimes blatant discrimination experienced by physicians, based on their status as mothers,” the researchers wrote. “While these experiences may be mitigated or exacerbated by stage of training, institution, and choice of specialty, participants’ reports suggest these experiences are pervasive.”

They concluded, “As we strive to build more equitable workplaces, our findings suggest that challenging norms around motherhood in the medical workplace, as well as structural changes that address pregnancy, parental leave, and childcare, are needed in order to mitigate the impacts of maternal discrimination in medicine.”


Halley MC, Rustagi AS, Torres JS, et al. Physician mothers’ experience of workplace discrimination: a qualitative analysis [published online December 12, 2018]. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.k4867