Medical EducationBRIEF REPORT

Parental leave in medical school: supporting students as parents

Sheila R. Ortega, DO; Jacob M. Barnes, DO; and Jacquelyn D. Waller, PharmD, BCPS
Notes and Affiliations
Notes and Affiliations

Received: August 18, 2021

Accepted: December 2, 2021

Published: February 18, 2022

  • Sheila R. Ortega, DO, 

    St. Anthony North Family Medicine Residency, Westminster, CO, USA

  • Jacob M. Barnes, DO, 

    The University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville, Jacksonville, FL, USA

  • Jacquelyn D. Waller, PharmD, BCPS, 

    Department of Biomedical Sciences, Rocky Vista University, Parker, CO, USA

J Osteopath Med; 122(5): 229-233

Context: The overlap between medical school, residency, and childbearing potential increases the likelihood a woman will pursue parenthood within her, or her partner’s, medical training. Parental leave benefits mothers, fathers, and infants. Adequate parental leave promotes physical recovery, mental health, infant bonding, improved breastfeeding, appropriate childhood immunization, and familial engagement. Despite the risks and benefits, the United States does not have national paid maternity, paternity, or parental leave requirements. Complicating matters for medical trainees, parental leave policies are not well-defined within the undergraduate (UME) and graduate medical education (GME) realms. Significant policy advancements are on the horizon for GME; however, medical schools are left without evidence to support policy formation.

Objectives: This study aims to identify the presence and nature of maternal/paternal leave policies and procedures within UME. Given the authors’ close association with osteopathic medical education, only osteopathic medical schools were considered to lay the framework for future study in UME.

Methods: Investigators searched university websites for student handbooks outlining rules and policies surrounding parental leave. The following terms were utilized to investigate these documents: “parental,” “maternity,” “paternity,” “pregnant,” “pregnancy,” and “leave of absence” (LOA). Administrative personnel were contacted, and subjective data were documented. A parental leave policy was defined as explicitly dedicated to expectant parents or those parents planning on adoption. Medical leave or other short- and long-term LOA policies were not considered a parental leave policy.

Results: A total of 42 osteopathic medical schools were identified. Investigators established email communication with 17 schools (40.5%). Neither a student handbook nor email contact could be made with one institution. Two (4.9%) osteopathic medical schools overtly described parental leave in their policies. The majority of schools recommended students seeking parental leave follow short- or long-term LOA policies.

Conclusions: Without protected leave time, students must decide whether to begin a family or delay medical education. As GME begins prioritizing policy change, the authors call on UME to follow suit. Parenthood and medicine must be intertwined.

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