Pregnancy During Surgical Training: Are Residency Programs Truly Supporting Their Trainees?

Manuel Castillo-Angeles, Rachel B. Atkinson, Sarah Rae Easter, Ankush Gosain, Yue Yung Hu, Zara Cooper, Eugene S. Kim, Erika L. Rangel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: Despite recent national improvements in family leave policies, there has been little focus on program-level support for surgical trainees. Trainees who may require clinical duty adjustments during pregnancy, who experience pregnancy loss, or who struggle with balancing work obligations with the demands of a new infant may face stigma when seeking schedule accommodations. The aim of this study was to describe program and colleague support of surgical trainees for pregnancy-related and postpartum health needs. DESIGN: Survey questionnaire. Participants responded to multiple-choice questions about their history of pregnancy loss, their experience with reduction of clinical duties during pregnancy, and their breastfeeding experience. Those who took time off after miscarriages or reduced their clinical duties during pregnancy were asked whether they perceived their colleagues and/or program leadership to be supportive using a 4-point Likert scale (1-strongly agree, 4-strongly disagree) which was dichotomized to agree/disagree. SETTING: Electronically distributed through social media and surgical societies from November 2020 to January 2021. PARTICIPANTS: Female surgical residents and fellows. RESULTS: 258 female surgical residents and fellows were included. Median age was 32 (IQR 30-35) years and 76.74% were white. Of the 52 respondents (20.2%) who reported a miscarriage, 38 (73.1%) took no time off after pregnancy loss, including 5 of 10 women (50%) whose loss occurred after 10 weeks’ gestation. Of the 14 residents who took time off after a miscarriage, 4 (28.6%) disagreed their colleagues and/or leadership were supportive of time away from work. Among trainees who reported at least 1 live birth, only 18/114 (15.8%) reduced their work schedule during pregnancy. Of these, 11 (61.1%) described stigma and resentment from colleagues and 14 (77.8%) reported feeling guilty about burdening their colleagues. 100% of respondents reported a desire to breastfeed their infants, but nearly half (46.0%) were unable to reach their breastfeeding goals. 46 (80.7%) cited a lack of time to express breastmilk and 23 (40.4%) cited inadequate lactation facilities as barriers to achieving their breastfeeding goals. CONCLUSIONS: A minority of female trainees takes time off or reduces their clinical duties for pregnancy or postpartum health needs. National parental leave policies are insufficient without complementary program-level strategies that support schedule adjustments for pregnant trainees without engendering a sense of resentment or guilt for doing so. Surgical program leaders should initiate open dialogue, proactively offer clinical duty reductions, and ensure time and space for lactation needs to safeguard maternal-fetal health and improve the working environment for pregnant residents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e92-e102
JournalJournal of Surgical Education
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2022


  • female resident
  • Interpersonal and Communication Skills
  • parenthood
  • pregnancy
  • Professionalism
  • Systems-Based Practice
  • training
  • wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Education


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