I am honored to be selected as the 2019-2020 fellow, an incredible opportunity for an academic physician! My own journey in academic medicine as an otolaryngologist and mother has provided me with a unique perspective on some of the challenges that women face in medicine today. I am excited to embrace some of the most critical issues that are holding women physicians back from achieving their full potential and use my voice to help empower others.
My most significant career challenges occurred around my childbearing and early childrearing years, juggling pregnancy, maternity leave, and the demanding responsibilities of caring for young children in a 2-parent working household. These personal experiences, as well as those of my colleagues who are also physicians and mothers, helped shape my WIMHS fellowship objective of bringing to light the challenges women in medicine face.
One of the key obstacles for women physicians in achieving their career goals is the stressors related to childbearing and childcare. Motherhood continues to be a challenge in the medical field because the institutions where we work have not fully adapted to accommodate us. There is no standard approach on how the medical field deals with pregnancy whether in medical school, residency, fellowship, or professional practice. Additionally, due to lack of universal leave policy, parental leave, especially during training, is perceived as an undue burden on colleagues and a strain on residency and fellowship programs. Women who delay childbearing until the start of their professional careers are frequently past their peak fertility window, leading to higher rates of infertility, more frequent use of costly assisted reproductive technology, and higher rates of pregnancy complications. The consequences of delaying childbirth can be life altering for many women and their babies.
In addition, women physicians usually bear the brunt of childcare and parenting responsibilities. Women, compared to their male colleagues, are much less likely to have a partner that is a homemaker and more likely to do more of the domestic chores. Medical careers often involve an unpredictable schedule incongruent with the hours of most childcare facilities. Women physicians ranked a flexible work environment regarding child care, including access to available emergency child care on site or near the medical center, as the highest priority and most important to improve the career success and well-being of women faculty.
I am excited to have the opportunity to address these issues in an intentional and meaningful way through education, research, and collaboration with leadership. Please join me for the WIMHS speaker series this spring, “Motherhood in Medicine.” This is an exciting 3-part event that will feature national and local leaders, researchers, and educators who will come together to discuss the challenges women face with 1) pregnancy and fertility, 2) parental leave and childcare, and 3) work-family conflicts. During these seminars WIMHS will also highlight some exciting progress in the works at UC Davis Health that I anticipate will increase morale and satisfaction of all faculty, especially women. Here at UC Davis, efforts are underway to eliminate the real and perceived barriers to parenthood through policy change and initiatives that create a cultural environment that is supportive of important family related demands so we can attract the most talented, diverse, and sustainable workforce.
I appreciate the support of WIMHS and UC Davis Health leadership in this endeavor. Stay tuned and please keep in touch!
Debbie Aizenberg, MD
Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery
2019-20 WIMHS Fellow