Knowledge of Fertility and Perspectives about Family Planning among Female Physicians

Kathryn S. Smith*, Jennifer B. Bakkensen, Anne P. Hutchinson, Elaine O. Cheung, Jessica Thomas, Veronika Grote, Patricia Ingrid Moreno, Kara N. Goldman, Neil Jordan, Eve C. Feinberg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Importance: Pervasive gender disparities exist in medicine regarding promotion, achievement of academic rank, and appointment to leadership positions. Fertility and childbearing concerns may contribute to these disparities. Objective: To assess fertility knowledge and concerns and evaluate barriers to family building and impact on academic attrition reported by female physicians. Design, Setting, and Participants: This qualitative study used mixed methods; first, structured 1:1 interviews exploring fertility knowledge and family-building concerns were conducted among 16 female physicians between November 2019 and May 2020. Transcripts were coded in Dedoose and used to develop a survey instrument with subsequent pilot testing conducted among 24 female physicians between April 2020 and September 2020. Data analysis was performed from January 2021 to March 2021. Main Outcomes and Measures: Fertility knowledge, perceptions of peer and institutional support surrounding childbearing, factors contributing to delayed childbearing, and impact of family planning on career decisions. Results: Among 16 women who completed qualitative interviews, 4 (25%) were Asian, 1 (6%) was Black, 1 (6%) was multiracial, and 10 (63%) were White; mean (SD) age was 34.9 (4.0) years. Evaluation of fertility knowledge revealed 3 notable themes: (1) inadequate formal fertility education, (2) informal learning through infertility experiences of patients, peers, or personal struggles, and (3) desire to improve medical education through early introduction and transparent discussions about infertility. Exploration of childbearing concerns similarly revealed several salient themes: (1) high incidence of delayed childbearing, (2) perceived lack of peer and administrative support, and (3) impact of family building on career trajectory. These themes were borne out in pilot testing of the survey instrument: of 24 female physicians (7 Asian women [27%], 1 Black woman [4%], 1 Hispanic or Latinx woman [4%], 1 multiracial woman [4%], 15 White women [58%]; mean [SD] age, 36.1 [6.7] years), 17 (71%) had delayed childbearing and 16 (67%) had altered their career for family-building reasons. Conclusions and Relevance: Qualitative interviews identified fertility and family building concerns among female physicians and were used to develop a tailored survey for women in medicine. These findings suggest that female physicians may delay childbearing and make substantial accommodations in their careers to support family building. A large-scale national survey is needed to better characterize the unique fertility, childbearing, and parenting needs of women in academic medicine to better understand how these concerns may contribute to academic attrition..

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E2213337
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 18 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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