Family Planning, Fertility, and Career Decisions Among Female Oncologists

Anna Lee, Aleksandra Kuczmarska-Haas, Shraddha M. Dalwadi, Erin F. Gillespie, Michelle S. Ludwig, Emma B. Holliday, Fumiko Chino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Importance: Female oncologists often spend their childbearing years in training and establishing careers, with many later experiencing fertility issues when starting a family. Physician fertility and family planning are rarely discussed during training. Attitudes among female oncologists regarding family planning are unknown. Objectives: To understand barriers to family planning as well as the association of fertility treatment with career decisions and to assess experiences of pregnancy-based discrimination among female oncologists. Design, Setting, and Participants: In this survey study, a novel 39-item questionnaire was distributed to US female oncologists from May 7 to June 30, 2020, via email and social media channels. Questions regarding factors associated with family planning, maternity leave, and discrimination were included. Main Outcomes and Measures: The distribution of survey responses was compared by oncology subspecialty. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to determine independent variables for discrimination experienced during maternity leave. Results: Responses were collected from 1004 female oncologists. Most respondents (847 [84.4%]) were married, and 713 (71.0%) were currently working full-time. A total of 351 oncologists (35.0%) worked in radiation oncology, 344 (34.3%) in medical oncology, 186 (18.4%) in surgical oncology, and 91 (9.1%) in pediatric oncology. A total of 768 respondents (76.5%) had children, and of these, 415 (41.3%) first gave birth during postgraduate training, and 275 (27.4%) gave birth in years 1 to 5 as an attending physician. Almost all respondents (951 [94.7%]) stated that their career plans were at least somewhat associated with the timing of when to start a family. Having a supportive partner was the most commonly cited positive association with family planning (802 [79.9%]), while long work hours and heavy workload (669 [66.6%]) were the most common negative factors. One-third (318 [31.7%]) had miscarried, and 315 (31.4%) reported difficulty with infertility that required fertility counseling and/or treatment; 660 (65.7%) thought fertility preservation should be discussed with women during medical school and/or residency. One-third (312 [31.1%]) reported experiencing discrimination during pregnancy, and 332 (33.1%) stated they experienced discrimination for taking maternity leave. On multivariable logistic regression, having more than 1 child was associated with increased likelihood of experiencing discrimination during maternity leave (2 children: odds ratio, 1.62 [95% CI, 1.10-2.39]; P = .02; ≥3 children: odds ratio, 1.84 [95% CI, 1.14-2.95; P = .01). Conclusions and Relevance: In this survey study of female oncologists, 1 in 3 reported experiencing infertility and 1 in 3 stated they experienced discrimination during pregnancy and/or for taking maternity leave. Systemic changes are necessary to ensure women are supported and able to advance equitably in the field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e2237558
JournalJAMA network open
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 3 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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