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Women Physicians: Caregivers in Stereo or Surround-Sound


By Sherry L. Blumenthal, MD, Chair, PAMED Women Physicians Caucus

Women are genetically programmed to be caregivers. In most animal species, since females give birth (or lay eggs), the survival of the newborns depends upon nurturing by the mother. Even in the Gorillas we saw in the wild in Borneo, the young gorilla stays with the mother for 7 years before beginning a solitary life as an adult. As an OB/GYN, I also have a large pool of observable data in humans, watching my patients trying to "juggle" children and career/work at the same time.

Women physicians in specialties with direct patient contact are also professional caregivers. We spend our working hours, when we are not involved with paperwork, interacting with, talking with, examining and prescribing for, and operating upon our patients.

PAMED's Women Physician Caucus

PAMED's Women Physicians Caucus is open to all female medical student, residents/fellow, and physician PAMED members. If you're not yet a member of the WPC, I invite and encourage you to join. The WPC also has a private Facebook group.

As the so-called "sandwich generation," we also find ourselves being the predominant caregivers for elderly parents or ill siblings. Based upon extensive experience, both observational and now personal, care for aging parents often ends up upon the shoulders of a daughter or sister.

Some of the strain that leads to "burnout" is due to the emotional toll of caring for children, for sick patients, and then sick or failing relatives. Child-rearing has its own emotional and physical challenges. So we are "juggling" three or four balls at the same time.

While I currently struggle with the emotional and time-consuming challenges as a daughter and niece caring for a 97 and 99-year-old mother and her sister, I feel a bit privileged that I am retired and have a grown child and grandchildren so that I can be a good support system for my mother and aunt.

I do remember trying to balance medical school and residency with a young son and a marriage, in the times when these programs had no "heart" or flexibility for those few women going into medicine. The issues of who should take off when our son was sick, not being able to afford or find childcare, and even being denied a loan for full tuition because my husband had a job, made medical education a nightmare for me and my family. There was, however, no choice – you did it their way or you quit. I do not mean to dwell on the past, but offer it as perspective.

Now, at least, there is some compassion, considering that half of medical students are women and that we are in medical school and residency during our prime child-bearing years. I am interested in feedback as to how you cope, what supports you have or use, and what the maternity leave policies are at your place of practice or residency.

It appears these policies vary among health systems and departments, with some institutions having no reasonable policy set.

PAMED's Women Physicians Caucus is open to all female medical student, residents/fellow, and physician PAMED members. If you're not yet a member of the WPC, I invite and encourage you to join. The WPC also has a private Facebook group.

I hope we can generate a dialogue about our challenges as multi-generational caregivers while having the huge responsibility of caring for our patients. And I hope we can find or propose some helpful strategies and solutions. If the system is not compassionate, as we must be as physicians, it is our responsibility to work to change the system for the sake of the women who come after us.

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towersal

Great article! I am also caring for my elderly mother with dementia, as well as helping my sons get launched in their lives. The one thing I have learned is that I am not shy about asking for help, and I try to set boundaries with work. I no longer try to be superwoman! I remind myself of the instructions you receive when you get on a flight - in the event of an emergency, put the oxygen on yourself first!

Thursday, August 10, 2017 5:03:00 PM

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