Domestic Responsibilities Lead to Job Dissatisfaction among Physician Mothers

April 10, 2019
Patrick Campbell

Physician mothers who are responsible for 5 or more domestic tasks are more likely to desire a switch in fields or be dissatisfied with career.

Juggling too many domestic responsibilities can lead some physician mothers in surgical or procedural specialties to becoming dissatisfied with their careers or longing to switch fields, according to a recent study.

The study found that physician mothers who are solely responsible for 5 or more domestic tasks were significantly more likely to desire a change in careers or experience career dissatisfaction than their counterparts with fewer responsibilities.

Investigators sought to determine whether an increased domestic workload, specifically for proceduralists, could be associated with career dissatisfaction among physicians who are mothers.

Investigators recruited mothers from the Physician Moms Group (PMG). A link to an anonymous, secure questionnaire was posted on the PMG Facebook page on April 25, 2015 and remained active until May 26, 2015. Data analyses were limited to currently practicing US attending physicians and specialties were defined as all surgical specialties, anesthesiologists, gastroenterologists, and obstetricians-gynecologists. Data on 11 total tasks were gathered and statistical analysis was performed from Aug. 25, 2017 to Nov. 20, 2018. A total of 5 tasks was chosen as the cutoff to develop comparison groups.

A total of 2363 physicians responded to the questionnaire and 1712 were included in the study. Of those 1712, 1250 (73%) were from nonprocedural specialties and 462 (27%) were from procedural specialties. Physician mothers reported having sole responsibility for tasks including routine child care plans (980 of 1712 [57.2%]), cooking (752 of 1712 [43.9%]), and shopping for children (1480 of 1712 [86.4%]). Conversely, they reported their spouses or partners were more likely to have sole responsibility for home repairs (1072 of 1712 [62.6%]), finances (777 of 1712 [45.4%], and automobile maintenance (984 of 1712 [57.5%]). Investigators found no significant differences in the breakdown of domestic tasks in procedural versus nonprocedural specialties.

Of the 1712 mothers surveyed, 821 (48%) reported that they were primarily responsible for 5 or more domestic tasks compared to 891 (52%) who reported being responsible for less than 5 tasks. After a univariate analysis, investigators found no association between increased domestic responsibilities and career dissatisfaction among nonproceduralists. In proceduralists, those with 5 or more domestic tasks were more likely to have a desire to change careers compared with those who perform fewer than 5 domestic tasks (105 of 191 [55%] versus 114 of 271 [42.1%]).

Investigators performed a multivariate logistic regression analysis among procedural physician to identify any independent factors associated with the desire to switch to a less demanding career or specialty. Variables included age, practice type, household income, experience, and having primary responsibility for 5 or more domestic tasks. Investigators concluded responsibility for 5 or more domestic tasks was found to be the only factor independently associated with a desire to switch to a less demanding career or specialty.

Investigators found that physician mothers in procedural and surgical specialties who self-report being primarily responsible for domestic tasks are more likely to report a desire to change careers compared with those who have less domestic tasks. This association was not found among nonprocedural physician mothers. Investigators noted that their results were consistent with the findings of previous studies.

In an editorial, Julie Ann Freischlag, MD, FRCS, chief executive officer of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center and dean of Wake Forest School of Medicine, wrote about her personal experiences related to the subject and one of her recommendations was attempting to outsource some domestic responsibilities to prevent career dissatisfaction.

“The key to career satisfaction is to outsource those domestic chores you do not want to do and to make your own rules,” Freischlag wrote.

This study, titled “Association of Domestic Responsibilities With Career Satisfaction for Physician Mothers in Procedural vs Nonprocedural Fields,” is published in JAMA Surgery.