Despite recently heightened advocacy efforts relating to pregnancy and family leave policies in multiple surgical specialties, no studies to date have described female neurosurgeons’ experiences with childbearing. The AANS/CNS Section of Women in Neurosurgery created the Women and Pregnancy Task Force to ascertain female neurosurgeons’ experiences with and attitudes toward pregnancy and the role of family leave policies.
A voluntary online 28-question survey examined the pregnancy experiences of female neurosurgeons and perceived barriers to childbearing. The survey was developed and electronically distributed to all members of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons who self-identified as female in February 2016. Responses from female resident physicians, fellows, and current or retired practicing neurosurgeons were analyzed.
A total of 126 women (20.3%) responded to the survey; 57 participants (49%) already had children, and 39 (33%) planned to do so. Participants overwhelmingly had or planned to have children during the early practice and senior residency years. The most frequent obstacles experienced or anticipated included insufficient time to care for newborns (47% of women with children, 92% of women planning to have children), discrimination by coworkers (31% and 77%, respectively), and inadequate time for completion of board requirements (18% and 51%, respectively). There was substantial variability in family leave policies, and a minority of participants (35%) endorsed the presence of any formal policy at their institution. Respondents described myriad unique challenges associated with pregnancy and family leave.
Pregnancy and family leave pose significant challenges to the recruitment, retention, and advancement of women in neurosurgery. It is thus imperative to promote clear family leave policies for trainees and practitioners, address discrimination surrounding these topics, and encourage forethought and flexibility to tackle obstacles inherent in pregnancy and the early stages of child rearing.