The objective of this study is to systematically synthesize the existing literature on the experiences of motherhood in female surgeons both during surgical training and as staff physicians, to identify knowledge gaps, and to provide recommendations for institutional changes to better support pregnant female surgeons.
There are disproportionately fewer medical students pursuing surgical specialties, as surgery is often seen as incompatible with childbearing and pregnancy. However, no review has summarized the published literature on the collective experiences of female surgeons in navigating motherhood.
Four databases were searched and 1106 abstracts were identified. Forty-two studies were included and a thematic analysis was performed.
Four themes were identified: path toward motherhood (n=18), realities of motherhood (n=25), medical culture and its impact on career and family life (n=24), and institutional reproductive wellness policies (n=21). Female surgeons are more likely to delay motherhood until after training and have high rates of assisted reproductive technology use. Pregnancy during surgical training is associated with negative perception from peers, pregnancy complications, and scheduling challenges. Maternity leave policies and breastfeeding and childcare facilities are variable and often inadequate. Many female surgeons would agree that greater institutional support would help support women in both their roles as mothers and as surgeons.
Both female residents and staff surgeons experience significant and unique barriers before, during, and after motherhood that impact their personal and professional lives. Understanding the unique challenges that mothers face when pursuing surgical specialties is critical to achieving gender equity.