Physicians and medical students often must delay family building, such as childbearing, to pursue medical training, leading many to regret this decision due to infertility and the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART), according to study findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Medical training typically coincides with major reproductive years for women physicians, which can cause significant fertility, stress, and professional strain. Researchers surveyed physicians and medical school students to assess the relationship of this profession with family building.
The researchers used social media and email lists as the main methods to recruit participants. The questionnaire was sent to physicians and medical school students from April to May 2021.
The researchers sought to assess the psychologic and social burden of delayed childbearing, which can lead to infertility complications and the need for ART. These factors can impact the physicians’ well-being and also cause strain to relationships.
A total of 3310 people completed the survey, with most participants desiring to have biological children (n=3068 [92.7%]). A majority of participants were women (n=2982 [90.1%]) and completed their medical training (n=1738 [52.5%]).
Over half of the participants reported delaying family building due to their career (n=1985 [60.1%]) and most of these participants regretted that decision (n=1110 [55.8%]). The most reported reason for delaying family building was the time burden of residency.
Most participants who regretted delaying childbearing were aged 32 to 36 (n=325 [64.2%]). There were 457 (57.0%) participants aged 37 and older and 328 (48.4%) participants younger than age 32 who regretted delaying family building.
Out of all the participants, 698 (21.1%) reported infertility and 19.2% used ART, with older participants having a higher proportion of both.
A total of 903 participants documented fertility complications that impacted their well-being. There were 200 (38%) participants who used ART and 187 (9.2%) participants who did not use ART that required family-building stress therapy.
Compared with participants who did not require ART (n=145 [7.2%]), nearly half of all participants (n=229 [43.5%]) who used ART reported stress in their relationships.
“The high rates of regret of delaying family building, subsequent infertility and use of ART, and relationship strain, in therapy needs, make family building arduous for many physicians and medical students, especially ART users,” the researchers wrote. They concluded, “Our data highlight the need to change how we support family building for the entire physician workforce.”
Study limitations are the inability to estimate response rate or bias, which can limit generalizability.
Levy MS, Kelly AG, Mueller C, et al. Psychosocial burdens associated with family building among physicians and medical students. JAMA Intern Med. Published online July 24, 2023. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2023.2570
This article originally appeared on Neurology Advisor