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BMJ. 2018 Dec 12;363:k4926. doi: 10.1136/bmj.k4926.

Physician mothers' experience of workplace discrimination: a qualitative analysis.

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Program for Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA.
Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, Palo Alto, California, USA.
Contributed equally
Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, San Jose, California, USA.
Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.
University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Berkeley, California, USA.
Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Center for Policy and Research in Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, OR, USA.
Program for Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA



To report woman physicians' experiences, in their own words, of discrimination based on their role as a mother.


Qualitative analysis of physician mothers' free-text responses to the open question: "We want to hear your story and experience. Please share" included in questions about workplace discrimination. Three analysts iteratively formulated a structured codebook, then applied codes after inter-coder reliability scores indicated high concordance. The relationships among themes and sub-themes were organized into a conceptual model illustrated by exemplary quotes.


Respondents to an anonymous, voluntary online survey about the health and wellbeing of physician mothers posted on a Facebook group, the Physician Moms Group, an online community of US physicians who identify as mothers.


We analyzed 947 free-text responses. Participants provide diverse and vivid descriptions of experiences of maternal discrimination. Gendered job expectations, financial inequalities (including lower pay than equally qualified colleagues and more unpaid work), limited opportunities for advancement, lack of support during the pregnancy and postpartum period, and challenging work-life balance are some of the key themes identified. In addition, participants' quotes show several potential structural drivers of maternal discrimination and describe the downstream consequences of maternal discrimination on the physician herself, her career, family, and the healthcare system.


These findings provide a view of maternal discrimination directly from the perspective of those who experience it. Women physicians report a range of previously uncharacterized ways in which they experience maternal discrimination. While certain aspects of these experiences are consistent with those reported by women across other professions, there are unique aspects of medical training and the medical profession that perpetuate maternal discrimination.


Conflict of interest statement

Competing interests: All authors have completed the ICMJE uniform disclosure form at and declare: no support from any organization for the submitted work.

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