Work Life Balance

New York Times Op-Ed About Mommy Doctors Continues To Get Rightfully Slammed

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Dr. Karen Sibert’s op-ed in The New York Times about how aspiring female doctors who want families should think long and hard before going into medicine has caused quite the stir this week — and rightfully so. Dr. Sibert asserts in her piece that because medical education is federally funded, ladies who cut back to part-time once the babies come are in fact wasting taxpayer money. What’s problematic about her argument is that it’s completely rooted in an old-fashioned understanding of gender roles in families. With more and more dads cutting back to meet their demands at home, work life balance is hardly a woman’s issue anymore — but rather a problem that’s plaguing American families.

The Motherlode has recounted some of the best letters to the editors regarding the op-ed, and these readers are laying out some excellent points. Dr. Steven Neish points out that female doctors have started some powerful conversations about how to be committed doctors with families to support:

While I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Sibert that service to our patients is an imperative, I also agree with you that a large part of the problem is that we have many archaic viewpoints about how we structure our work. I celebrate the changes that women have brought to medicine. They have allowed conversations to be rational about our schedules and they have empowered the men in medicine to be committed to their families, too. I cannot imagine losing women in medicine.

The writer Mary Gordon notes that while attitudes about childcare being solely the mother’s responsibility are shifting, male and female doctors can afford to make the same professional choices when it comes to prioritizing family:

I am somewhat concerned, though, that what seems missing from the larger discussion is the point that child care is not just the responsibility of mothers, but of fathers also…This is an important place to discuss this issue, as often the argument is made that, the wage differential between men and women being so great, it makes sense for the woman to cut back on her job. But in fields like medicine where training for men and women is identical, this doesn’t need to be the case. A man making the kinds of professional sacrifices that many women make would probably have the same career trajectory.

Isolating the choices and experiences of mothers who have chosen to make sacrifices for their families skews the issue of workplace policy to make the narrative just about women and the “problems” of women with children. Although women have always been the primary caretakers of children, this portrait is changing to include the efforts and dedication of men who are making choices that their fathers and grandfathers never had to make. As a result, we’re no longer talking about just mothers or women who aspire to have families, but all parents.

Critiquing the trajectories of professional women with children suggests not only a limited understanding of the current workplace and family dilemma, but more importantly, of where it’s ultimately going.