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Pregnancy During Otolaryngology Residency: Experience and Recommendations

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Pregnancy during graduate medical training became a pertinent issue in the United States during the 10-year interval between 1992 and 2002 as the number of female residents trended steadily upward to over 25 per cent. Surgical training programs characteristically present unique challenges and stressors for all trainees, and pregnancy introduces additional physical, professional, and emotional demands for the pregnant woman and her coworkers. A qualitative study was performed using in-person interviews of female otolaryngology residents who had given birth within the previous 12 months. Items addressed included the pregnancy course and its complications, specific stressors during and after pregnancy, and solutions implemented by the resident and her program director. Reactions and level of support from coworkers were also discussed. Five pregnancies were reported among three residents interviewed. One resident experienced preterm delivery, which necessitated a week-long stay in the neonatal intensive care unit for her infant. Another had chorioamnionitis during delivery of two infants. One child had low birth weight. The third resident had a miscarriage during the first trimester of her first pregnancy and sustained a minor head injury after fainting in the operating room during her second pregnancy. Overall, long hours, unpredictable work demands, and guilt over colleagues' increased workloads and altered schedules were noted as significant sources of stress among these residents; the women also described high expectations of themselves, along with misgivings over their ability to balance pregnancy and parenthood with career demands. The most significant postpartum stress indicator was the matter of child care, especially as it related to finding adequate coverage for on-call periods ranging from 3 to 14 days per month. Maintaining breastfeeding was an additional concern in the postpartum period. Pregnancy during surgical residency is a significant source of conflict for the pregnant resident and her colleagues. Our study illustrates how program directors can pre-emptively address challenges this event presents. When policies on maternity leave, call issues during pregnancy, and flexible rotation schedules are in place before pregnancy occurs, the process may be smoother and more rewarding for all involved.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: From the Department of Otolaryngology, Naval Medical Center San Diego, San Diego, California

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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