Medical Aspirations and Planning Parenthood- The Experiences of Future and Foundation Doctors

Dr Claudia Leitner (Project Lead, University of Exeter Medical School) and Dr MC McNeill (Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital)

  • Awarded to: Professor Karen Mattick
  • Co-investigators: Dr Alexandra Allan
  • Funding Awarded to Exeter: £ 2,000
  • Dates: 1 April 2016 - 30 September 2016
  • Sponsor(s): The Association for the Study of Medical Education (ASME)

Junior doctors in the UK report that conflicts between personal and professional life represent a significant source of stress in the initial years post qualification1. The number of female doctors in the UK is increasing, although their distribution across specialties varies. Furthermore, there is a drop in female representations across all specialties from the transition from trainee to consultant with unclear cause, suggesting a lack of progression into senior roles. The culture and duration of medical training may create difficulties for doctors who desire children. Doctors are less likely to marry, have fewer children than the national average, lower national fertility rates and the first birth at 34 years compared to a national average of approximately 28. Thus, both men and women in medicine have to make difficult decisions when it comes to parenthood, specialty choice and career progression.

It is difficult to answer whether there is a good time to have a family, especially for those who chose to undertake higher education and enter a vocational profession, but it seems especially difficult to decide in the medical career. There is little published qualitative analysis of attitudes towards parenthood in UK medical students or junior doctors with regards to specialty choice.

We aim to explore the experiences and beliefs that influence decisions about timing of parenthood in senior medical students and foundation doctors in the South West of England, including perceptions of the support available and workplace culture.  We ask: What are senior medical students’ and foundation year doctors’ perceptions and experiences of planning for a professional medical career and parenthood?

The research will be undertaken as an interpretive and collective case study of the perceptions and experiences of approximately 25 senior (5th year) Peninsula medical students and foundation year doctors from the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital, in relation to planning for a professional medical career and parenthood. A semi-structured interview will be the main data collection method (max 60min), using open-ended questions, prompts and probes. The interview schedule will cover the key themes (e.g. timing, parenting and childcare, career aspirations, support, prospective plans) but will be flexible so that the participants can share their own thoughts and feelings. A life grid will also be used. The interviews will be audio-recorded and fully transcribed. The data will be thematically analysed using a constant comparative method. A purposive sampling method will be utilised to maximize variation.

A final report, conference presentation, and publication in a peer-reviewed journal will be produced, plus a short news article targeting Specialty Leads, Training Programme Directors, Postgraduate Deans, Health Education England to demonstrate how different specialties are seen by junior doctors and the changes that might need to occur to persuade them to consider a career in that specialty.

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