Female Surgeons Pay 'High Price' of Tougher Pregnancies

Study suggests that grueling hours and work culture are factors
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 2, 2021 8:37 AM CDT
Job Hazard for Female Surgeons: Tough Pregnancies
Female surgeons are more likely to have problems with their pregnancy than other women.   (Getty/Wavebreakmedia)

Female surgeons may be among the most highly trained medical professionals in the land, but they tend to have difficult pregnancies more often than other women. Fixing the problem will require changing the culture of residency programs, say the authors of a new study in JAMA Surgery. The bleak stats:

  • The survey of nearly 700 female surgeons found that 42% suffered a pregnancy loss, more than twice the rate of the general population, reports the New York Times.
  • Nearly half had major complications, compared to 27% of the rest of women, per MedPage Today.
  • Female surgeons gave birth at a median age of 33, compared to 31. That may help explain why they were far more likely to use procedures such as IVF to get pregnant. About 25% did so, while less than 2% of babies born in the US are conceived with such technology.

So what's going on? Grueling residencies and a culture that expects young surgeons to put in 60-hour weeks, including night shifts, pregnant or no. On top of that, the work itself requires surgeons to be on their feet for hours at a time, with limited food or water. “There’s a lot of morbidity associated with women surgeons having children,” Dr. Erika Rangel of Harvard Medical School and a study co-author tells USA Today. “They work at full steam right up until delivery and it’s a very physical job.” That culture must change if stats are to improve, the authors argue. In an accompanying essay at JAMA, doctors Emilia Diego and Sally Carty of the University of Pittsburgh write that "there is a rather high price for those whose aspirations for childbearing overlap with the time required for surgical training and career." (More pregnancy stories.)

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