Female Anesthesiologists to Ask ASA for Maternity Leave Statement

Tinker Ready

October 24, 2017

BOSTON — A group of female anesthesiologists plans to urge the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) to adopt a parental leave statement and feature more female keynotes at the group's annual meeting.

The group, Women in Anesthesiology, met here Friday on the eve of Anesthesiology 2017, the ASA's annual convention. They are spearheading an effort to address pay disparities and family leave issues. They are also focused on improving the ranks of women in anesthesiology leadership.

"My goal it to figure out what are the things we can do to advance ourselves," said Rekha Chandrabose, MD, the group's president. She is an assistant anesthesiology professor at the University of California in San Diego.   

About 25% of anesthesiologists are women, according to a 2013 Rand Corporation study.  Women make up about 40% of younger anesthesiologists — those under the age of 36.

It found wide variation in sex by race among survey respondents. Specifically, women made up 21% of white anesthesiologists and 51% of black anesthesiologists.

"The thing we don't see is a lot woman as senior faculty, full professors, vice chairs, vice deans, heads of divisions, chairs of departments," Dr Chandrabose said.

The study — which was sponsored by the ASA — also found that women in the field earn about 7% less than men.  Dr Chandrabose noted that the survey controlled for factors such as variations in pay for hospitalist vs fee-for-service doctors.

The recent Medscape Anesthesiologist Compensation Report found an even larger pay gap, in unadjusted survey responses, at 24%.

Another issue for the group: parental leave. Kristin Ondecko Ligda, MD, is a staff anesthesiologist at UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She's started an online group called the Physician Anesthesiologists Mom Group that now has 3000 members. She is on the ASA's Committee on Young Physicians, where she is putting forth the parental leave issue. 

"There is a whole cohort of women who are coming though their residencies, who are wanting to start families and don't understand the rules of maternity leave," she said.

In some cases, there are none, Dr Ligda said. She sees new parents use vacation time and come back to work in 6 weeks.

Many women struggle to balance operating room and call schedules with family demands.

"I have no idea what time I'll get home any day. It's not like a 9 to 5 job. I could be home at 2 o'clock. I could be home at 8 o'clock," Dr Ligda said. She said she gets by with a husband who works at home and meets the bus, along with a "girl gang" and a network of friends and colleagues.

There's no perfect work/life balance, and some days are more lopsided toward family than work.  "Everything I do in one world ends up as a sacrifice in the other world," she said.  

As more women become aware of parenting and gender issues, more are getting involved, Dr Ligda continued. She thinks ASA is interested in hearing what the women's groups have to say.

When the women arrived at the Friday night meeting — a dinner and talk at a Back Bay high-rise — they found a document on each table. It compared the maternity leave statements for different specialty societies, including the American College of Surgeons and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Both groups support at least 6 weeks of maternity leave.

The women at the meeting were also given forms to fill out with the names of women who could be keynote speakers at the next ASA meeting.

Harriet Hopf, MD, an anesthesiologist at the University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics, Salt Lake City, told the group that she was once urged to wear a scarf if she wanted a leadership job. Her advice to the women: Stick up for each other in meetings, push for female speakers at conferences, and nominate each other for prizes.

Finding a group like a "girl gang" or "woman squad" is key, she said. "We are not making change by ourselves. We need allies."

The Women in Anesthesiology website offers resources for women who want to start local groups. It also includes a series of "toolkits" with advice on topics such as "Picking Your Battles" and "Feeling Like a Fraud."

"We were trying to target the things that people experience, but don't have labels for, that can keep them from being able to excel," said Dr Chandrabose. 

Anesthesiology 2017 from the American Society of Anesthesiologists. No abstract. October 20, 2017.

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