The life of a resident physician is tedious. There are patients to attend to, reports to write, exams to study for, charts to fill up and many more tasks that need to be fulfilled. It is not an easy task, but doable by all means. However, throw pregnancy into the mix, and the work of the pregnant physician seems nigh impossible to complete.

Ever since they have been welcomed into the practice, women have been taking the medical field by storm. With a great number of female doctors comes an increase in the number of pregnant residents. According to studies, about half of the female resident physicians have their first pregnancy during their residency training.

Occupational risks could lead to complications during pregnancy

Exposure to occupational risk factors during their residencies, such as long hours, prolonged standing and a conglomeration of other physical and psychological stress, is difficult for the pregnant resident. A study by Takeuchi et. al. in Japan showed that working long hours during the first trimester increases the risk for complications during pregnancy. It has been shown that pregnant resident physicians are at a higher risk of having a threatened abortion, preterm labour or pre-eclampsia.

With some complications imminent that need t obe avoided, the workload of the pregnant resident tends to be reduced and co-residents have to take extra work to make up for it. The pregnant resident is stuck between a rock and a hard place – while the pregnant resident does not want to be a burden to her co-residents, she also has to consider the safety of her unborn child. Fortunately, despite the dilemma they face, most co-residents tend to be supportive of their colleague’s pregnancy and will try to distribute the work among themselves.

Maternity leaves only cover delivery and post-partum period

While the American Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education had decreased residency working hours to 80 hours per week in 2003, there has been no change in the hours for a pregnant resident physician. Residents are deemed equal regardless of whether they are pregnant or not. The labour codes mandate the need to provide maternity leaves, the length of which varies from country to country, but only for the delivery and post-partum period.

There are programs which provide longer leaves that can extend up to 12 months, allowing the pregnant resident to take time off during the entire duration of her pregnancy. However, such offers are rare and not many female residents would choose to take that much time off from their training.

Proper planning the key to handling pregnancy and residency simultaneously

Both pregnancy and residency are very demanding tasks. However, they can be done simultaneously, as proven by many other female pregnant physicians. The key is to be prepared. When the female resident decided to get pregnant, aside from making arrangements with the significant other and family, the department head, training officer as well as co-residents need to be informed so that work can be structured properly. Some programmes have work that is more demanding than others. Furthermore, depending on the structure of the training, the programmes might be easier or harder in the first year, which can affect the workload of the pregnant physician.

Thus, the key to handling both pregnancy and residency effectively is proper planning. Women should be able to get pregnant during residency while maintaining their standards, and planning out their pregnancy will go a long way to relieving the stress of the pregnant resident and help them through tough times. MIMS

Read more:
Finding the balance between medicine and motherhood
Being a nurse and pregnant all at once : 6 tips to guide you
Work-Life Balance: A Constant Struggle for HCPs
Breastfeeding: benefits and sustaining it as a healthcare professional

- Takeuchi et. al., “Long working hours and pregnancy complications: women physicians survey in Japan”, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014 14:245DOI: 10.1186/1471-2393-14-245
- Fix, "Is Pregnancy During Residency Manageable?”, Medscape. Mar 12, 2009.
-Brian, “Women in Medicine”, Am Fam Physician. 2001 Jul 1;64(1):174-178.