Survey reveals impact of COVID-19 pandemic on physician mothers
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented considerable challenges to all physicians, but particularly physicians who are mothers, according to several studies presented at this year’s virtual Women in Medicine Summit.
“These physicians have unique stressors, and have been shown to be more dissatisfied with their work-life balance than their male counterparts,” Ryan Melikian, BA, MS, a second-year medical student at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, said during a presentation. “These women are also faced with the daily responsibilities of being both a physician and a mother, assuming the majority of household and familial roles, including child care.”
Melikian and colleagues conducted a survey in a Physician Mothers Facebook Group with more than 70,000 members. The survey was posted on the group’s Facebook page, and was shared by individual members on their pages. The link was also sent to physician mothers through text messages and via email.
The survey was conducted from April 27 through May 11. A total of 2,709 physician mothers from all but two states in the United States participated in the survey; 7% of respondents were located outside the U.S.
Melikian and other researchers from Wayne State University evaluated the results of the survey to determine the impact of the pandemic on physician mothers and their concerns.
Concerns, experiences of physician mothers
Melikian and colleagues found that 50% of respondents worked in areas with a high density of COVID-19 cases.
They found that among physician mothers, eight of their top 10 concerns related to the pandemic were about their coworkers and staff. These women also expressed concern about the mental health of other health care workers, disrupted training among medical students and the short- and long-term consequences for people working in academic medicine.
Among physician mothers, 55% modified their work schedule to provide telehealth visits, 38% worked from home and just 25% of physician mothers did not change their work schedule.
They also found that 12% of respondents voluntarily increased their work hours, while 6% were required to increase their work hours.
In another analysis of the survey results, Andrea Janis, BS, a second-year medical student at Wayne State, evaluated the impact of the pandemic on physician mothers based on whether or not they prepared for it, personally and professionally.
They determined that approximately half of all mothers said their biggest personal concern during the pandemic was that they would expose their children to COVID-19, with the prevalence ranging from 48% to 52% among mothers who did and did not professionally or personally prepare for the pandemic.
Janis and colleagues found that physician mothers who had not personally prepared for the pandemic were more likely to express concern about disrupted family life, homeschooling children and financial difficulties than those who had prepared for the pandemic.
Those who did not personally prepare for the pandemic were more likely to be concerned about lacking personal protective equipment for themselves (44%) compared with those who prepared (39%).
The most common professional concern held by those who did and did not prepare for the pandemic was the morale of their staff.
Janis and colleagues also found that physician mothers who professionally prepared for the pandemic were less likely to be concerned about dying from COVID-19 than those who had not prepared.
“While differences existed among mothers based on whether they had prepared for the pandemic, the number one concern was always the health of their children,” Janis said during the presentation.
She noted that additional research is needed to understand factors that impact preparedness for future pandemics or other disasters.
In a subset of emergency medicine physician mothers who participated in the survey, Lauren Robb, BS, a second-year medical student at Wayne State, and colleagues found that nearly one-third (32%) indicated they agreed or strongly agreed they were personally prepared for the local impact of the pandemic.
In addition, 49% said they were professionally prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among respondents, 63% indicated they were satisfied with the amount of time they spent with their family amid the pandemic.
Robb said emergency medicine physicians prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic by acquiring PPE, changing their work schedules to accommodate for child care and by educating themselves about the novel coronavirus.
“Although emergency medicine physician mothers are frontline at work and at home, less than half of these mothers felt professionally or personally prepared for the pandemic,” Robb said.
Experience by children’s age
In another subset analysis, Annie Savka, BS, a second-year medical student at Wayne State, and colleagues assessed how the experiences of physician mothers varied by their children’s age. Overall, 80% of all physician mothers had at least one child in elementary school or younger, and 26% had at least one child in middle school or in high school.
“We found that depending on the children’s ages, physician moms had different concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Savka said during the presentation.
The researchers found that 52% of physician mothers with older children did not change their schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 32% of physician mothers with younger children.
Savka reported that physician mothers with older children were more likely to be primarily or solely responsible for helping their children with their schoolwork.
At 61%, women with older children were also more concerned with exposing their spouse to COVID-19 compared with 44% of women with younger children.
Compared with those with older children, physician mothers with younger children were more concerned with exposing their parents to COVID-19 (43% vs. 33%), schooling their children from home (30% vs. 17%), dying from COVID-19 (42% vs. 36%) and being separated from their family (27% vs. 21%).
Savka noted that further analysis of physician mothers’ experiences, based on their children’s ages, their family responsibilities and their careers, is warranted.
“More women than ever are becoming physicians today, and the needs of physician moms are important considerations for future pandemic preparedness,” Savka said.
Janis A, et al. Impact of COVID-19 on physician mothers. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit. October 9-10, 2020. Virtual.
Melikian R, et al. Concerns of physician mothers at work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit. October 9-10, 2020. Virtual.
Robb L, et al. How did emergency medicine physician mothers prepare and cope during the COVID-19 pandemic? Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit. October 9-10, 2020. Virtual.
Savka A, et al. Experiences of physician mothers during the COVID-19 pandemic based upon their children’s ages. Presented at: Women in Medicine Summit. October 9-10, 2020. Virtual.