By Danielle Hashmi
When I was applying for medical school and residency, I was certain that I would never have children during my training. Despite this original conviction, by the time that I was getting my residency out of the gloomy pit of intern year, I was realizing that I was ready to start a family. I am currently a fifth-year resident at a fairly large general surgery program based in Philadelphia. Prior to residency, I completed a five-year undergraduate program and worked for three years as an engineer. I then did a dual degree program obtaining an MS in Forensic Medicine, adding an additional year to my medical school training. I say all of this to explain that I am a few years older than my classmates and that while delaying child-rearing until graduation seemed logical to a twenty-something-year old, at 32 I was no longer as certain. I had my daughter during my third year of residency. She is the light of my life, and I would not change that for the world.
The process of taking leave for the delivery of my baby was less than ideal. I found a lack of support and at times flat out resentment from some of my fellow residents. However, the reason that I wanted to focus on this topic for this article is not to reminisce in nightmares; it is to highlight the positive change and culture shift that occurred in my program between my third and fifth years and to encourage those reading this to push to make those changes as well.
We did not have a defined maternity leave policy at the time of my planned cesarean section. Our medical leave policy included filing for leave through the Family Medical and Leave Act and using all of our vacation. Any leave taken in addition to the four-week vacation period needed to be made up at the end of your residency. You could not transfer vacation time from year to year, so essentially any leave over four weeks for any resident, from family medicine to neurosurgery, required an extension of your training. In my mind, this policy almost ensured any resident mother would either not pursue fellowship training or would not have adequate time to recover and bond with her newborn.
After hearing about my experience, two fellow residents approached me and brought up the idea of changing our policy. While this was something that I knew needed to happen, it was not something that I was able or willing to do alone, especially after the judgment I felt during my pregnancy. I had personally argued for a leave that mirrored the American Board of Surgery (ABS) time requirements, but it had fallen on deaf ears. I learned an important lesson after this: three voices are louder than one.
We wrote a draft policy and presented this to our Graduate Medical Education (GME) director. After several meetings and revisions, this policy became congruent with the ABS policy. Our policy was expanded to include the same for all specialties- a leave policy which included the maximum time allotted by their governing board. Our leave was designated “family leave” that included maternity and paternity leave and leave for family emergencies. Our GME director and our new general surgery program director were very supportive during this process. The most rewarding part for me has been the mental shift in what it means to be a resident parent. It is no longer a shameful secret that you want to have a child during your training. Our residents have pulled together for baby shower gifts, and we routinely share pictures of our children. I am so proud of the change that my program has made, and I know we will continue to see improvements as long as people do not abuse the policy. Since I had my daughter two years ago, our program has welcomed three new additions into the world. A mother and a father have taken family leave, and that is a wonderful feeling.
Danielle Hashmi (LaSalle) grew up in Philadelphia. She attended Drexel University for Biomedical Engineering before working for Augusts Aerospace Engineering. She attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she also completed her general surgery residency. She has an MS in Forensic Medicine. She will do her Surgical Critical Care fellowship at Lehigh Valley Hospital and hopes to pursue a career in acute care surgery, trauma, and burn.
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