Doctors having families: the effect of pregnancy and childbearing on relationships with patients

Lucy M. Candib, University of Massachusetts Medical School
S. L. Steinberg
J. Bedinghaus
M. Martin
R. Wheeler
Michele P. Pugnaire, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Randy Wertheimer, University of Massachusetts Medical School Worcester

Document Type Article


Family physicians care for patients in all stages of the life-cycle, while at the same time proceeding themselves through the course of adult development. The purpose of this study was to examine, from the doctor's point of view, changes in the doctor-patient relationship resulting from the physician's pregnancy and child-bearing. Five faculty family physicians participated via individual interviews and group discussion. Two women without children, the clinical psychologist interviewer, and other faculty family physicians joined in the review of the interviews and the group discussion. Comprehensibility, reciprocity, mutuality, identification, credibility, availability for long-term relationships, nurturing, and support emerged as themes in the evolution of relationships with patients. The process of examining the effect of childbearing on our relationships with patients unexpectedly revealed how the dual expectation of career and motherhood causes colleagues without children to feel inadequate. On the other hand, the study itself had the positive effect of facilitating the resolution of long-standing tensions among group members. We conclude that becoming mothers, a significant life change, had a transforming effect on our clinical work with patients and that studying this effect as a group fostered growth in the relationships among the participants.