New COVID-19 Research Underscores Need for Health Policies to Support Physician Mothers and Families

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, September 16, 2021

Contact:
Janelle Davis
Public Relations Strategist
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jdavis@aafp.org

New COVID-19 Research Underscores Need for Health Policies
to Support Physician Mothers and Families

WASHINGTON, DC — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge industries and workers across the nation, but few have been impacted as greatly as women in the health care sector. The public health crisis presents extraordinary obstacles for female physicians with families, causing many to leave the workforce at a time when we need them most.

New research by the Robert Graham Center and the American Board of Family Medicine, titled “Matricentric Feminism in the Time of COVID-19: An Exploration of Women Physicians at the Intersection of Mothering(jourms.wordpress.com)” was published in the September edition of the Journal of Mother Studies. This study aimed to explore the gendered professional and personal experiences of being a mother and female primary care physician during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the largest employment industry in the U.S., health care is dominated by women. In primary care, women are entering the workforce at a higher rate than men, making it especially vital to understand the impact of COVID-19 on women physicians.

“It’s important to note, even before the pandemic, early-career women primary care physicians reported burnout at a higher rate than their male counterparts,” said lead author Yalda Jabbarpour, MD. “The last thing we need in a pandemic is fewer physicians, especially ones who are exhausted and frustrated. We need policies in place that support health care workers at work as well as at home, because health care workers can’t take care of others unless we take care of them.”

Many physicians in the study sample reported that gender impacted their experiences during COVID-19, particularly at home. Sixty-seven percent of women physicians with children said COVID-19 had a great impact on their home life, while only 25 percent of women physicians without children did. A similar pattern was seen when asked about the impact of gender on their work lives, with 41 percent of physician moms indicating COVID-19 greatly impacted their work life, as opposed to 17 percent of women physicians without children.

When asked to describe the changes they were required to make at home or in their personal life, three types of comments set the theme:

  • Physical and processual changes related to personal and family safety, prevention and decontamination (e.g., the safe transfer of work clothing from person to the washing machine).
  • Practical or logistical changes related to care and education of children, domestic duties and work location/hours.
  • Socio-emotional changes related to social isolation from family and friends or finding new ways to maintain emotional and mental health.

Additional responses focused on how the pandemic would affect primary care, the health care system and the health of their patients. Personal safety and hospital surge capacity remain common workplace concerns for women. Many wondered who would care for their patients in their absence, while others struggled with the long-term goal of bringing patients current on care that went neglected. Many respondents expressed concern for their patients of color who are being disproportionately harmed by COVID-19, and others worry about decreased scholarly productivity which is predicted to contribute to future delayed academic advancement.

“The stories told by the women in our study highlight systemic issues in the health care system and society,” Jabbarpour said. “Future studies should evaluate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the primary care workforce in the U.S., with a specific focus on how the pandemic impacted physician mothers of all races and ethnicities. Understanding the negative and positive impacts of the pandemic can spark health system changes that will prevent burnout and sustain these essential members of the health care workforce.”

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About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.