The New Gastroenterologist

Pregnancy and parental leave during gastroenterology fellowship training: A program perspective


Our Experience in Creating a Policy

Ronak V. Patel, MD. Assistant Professor of Medicine and Gastroenterology Fellowship Assistant Program Director, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University

Dr. Ronak V. Patel

We developed a formal fellowship program policy on parental leave and pregnancy in the setting of a broader discussion about fellow workload and wellness. We agreed that trainees should be allowed to make changes to their schedule with co-fellows as needed for medical appointments or procedures and that our backup policy should be flexible enough to provide spot coverage for unexpected complications and family emergencies. We also incorporated a GI psychologist to provide wellness resources and suggestions for reducing burnout for our fellows.

We strove to follow certain principles in creating this policy. Trainees who are parents should have a comparable clinical experience to their nonparenting colleagues and should take the lead in rearranging their own schedule. Nonbirthing parents, adopting parents, and parents using surrogacy should be included in any parental leave policy. Fellowship leaders have an important responsibility in helping fellows proactively plan to meet requirements for graduation and maximize learning and exposure (Figure). We also recognized the importance of equitable coverage. For example, there is sometimes a perception that fellows with children “burden” fellows who are not parents.3,19 On the other hand, fellows without children may feel that they are called on more than their colleagues with children to cover those with childcare issues. In addition, as a recent study of general surgery residency program directors indicates, there are complex interpersonal issues that play into a colleague’s willingness to provide coverage.20 It behooves program leadership to be cognizant of group dynamics that might cause conflict over what should be a straightforward coverage situation.

Figure: Steps for program leadership to help fellows plan leave

We first researched national and societal guidelines if available, as well as our institution’s graduate medical education (GME) website. We categorized benefits by whether they were federal, state-mandated, or institutional. It is important to note that any concerns about trainee salaries should be discussed with one’s GME office to ensure the leave policy is in accordance with federal funding policies.21 We solicited experiences and advice from former and current fellows who had gone through, or were planning, pregnancy and parental leave. A few faculty members volunteered to serve as a resource for fellows; these “ambassadors” discussed their experiences during a lunchtime panel, as well as offered to provide one-on-one advice and participate in future panels. We also reached out to our infection control experts to review the literature and federal policies on infections of special consideration during pregnancy and endoscopy. As for radiation safety, given the importance of education and active monitoring, we offer the option of reaching out to our radiation safety officer for individualized counseling.22

Erica Donnan, MD. Assistant Professor of Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University

Dr. Erica Donnan

Based on these efforts, we drafted a written policy designed for pregnant fellows and fellows planning parental leave on expectations for the program and fellows, benefits, and advice, including childcare options, lactation room locations, and financial planning tips. We shared this document with fellows and incorporated feedback. As a “living document” it is subject to change and will be updated as needed (at least annually).


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