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Tuft's researchers want to inspire change for  student parents

Tuft's researchers want to inspire change for student parents

Researchers Marieke H. Rosenbaum DVM, MPH,  Annie S. Wayne DVM, MPH, Brianna L. Molter DVM, and Megan K. Mueller PhD of Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine have released studies that have shown that parental and pregnancy support is lacking in veterinary schools.  The first study, was published in the November 2018 issue of JAVMA. A second study should be published shortly.

We caught up with one of the researchers, Dr. Annie Wayne, Assistant Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences. Cummings Veterinary School at Tufts University, to find out more.

1.     What inspired you to do this study?

We all have young children – Marieke had her son during veterinary school and recounts pumping breast milk in the bathroom while on clinics.  I had my first child while I was in the middle of my emergency and critical care residency.  Overall, my program was supportive and made it work for me, but I was the first resident in the program to ever have child, so there were no polices in place.  One of our other researchers, Dr. Megan Muller is not a veterinarian, but has also experienced the challenges of work-life balance.  We came together on this project because we think lack of support services, written policies that are easily accessible and institutional polices to support people who want to be veterinarians and have families is pervasive at veterinary schools and training programs and hospitals. 


2.      What do you hope the studies accomplish?

Right now, there is very little data documenting this, so our hope is to provide some initial data about where things stand today on this topic and then hopefully, affect change at all levels.   We are working right now on a follow up study looking at maternal discrimination and have additional plans for studies.


3.     What are some of the most concerning things learned from this study?


One of the most concerning things to me was the number of people who responded that they did not feel safe if they were pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant. Veterinary students and veterinarians have a lot of potential exposures and there is a lack of comprehensive safety information available. 

When I was pregnant, my own obstetrician had no idea what types of potentially harmful substances or situations I would be exposed to, so she didn’t even know how to advise me how to stay safe.  

The other thing that was a bit shocking to me was the number of comments in the open section where people expressed blatantly sexist comments that were made to them.  Despite being female dominated, it is still a big problem.

An action step we have been able to take at Tufts is to create a website that has information regarding leave policies, lactation room locations on campus and parenting support services in addition to gathering national and local safety information for people who are thinking about becoming pregnant or find themselves pregnant.  The information is geared toward people in all areas of the veterinary school – students, staff and faculty.  (link: http://vetsites.tufts.edu/wellness/parental-and-family-planning-resources/)


4.      What are schools doing to change their attitudes?  What positive steps are they making?

At Tufts, we have been able to make some small changes.  We have worked with the administration to get lactation rooms in the hospital building and a second building on campus and are working toward getting a third.  We now have a written policy for house officers (residents and interns) for how family leave is handled.  The family leave policy at the university has recently been updated and is generous comparatively (not part of our work specifically).  We hope that our research encourage other colleges to do the same.

At this point, I think there is a lot talk about wellness in the veterinary field, but there is still a lack of institutional policy change that really supports wellness, work-life balance and emphasis on quality and longevity of careers.  To me wellness includes family and pregnancy related issues but also the wider breadth of mental health issues.  We have a very specific outlook working at a university and me, specifically working in the hospital, but there have not been significant institutional changes on this front.  One area I think we should focus on is creating residency training programs that make it possible for residents to have children during their training without feeling like they are disrupting their training or putting an undue burden on their resident-mates or service by having to take time off. 

The human medical field has more options and their framework could be adopted by veterinary training programs.  It takes institutional investment and recognition of the importance of making it possible, but I do think there are changes that could be made to make it possible. Another idea that is floating around is to develop a “family friendly policies” with some type of institution or group grading practices so that potential hires and employees can understand whether the practice is a good fit if they are looking for work-life balance and a practice that shares their values. 


5.      What should a student do if she discovers she is pregnant during school?

First and foremost, make sure she has good medical care.  Second, reach out to all the support services available, both formal and informal available.  Third, access safety information regarding the potential hazards you may be exposed to.  Lastly, there are plenty of people who have done it, so reach out to the administration and find someone who is supportive and can put you in touch with others who have recently gone through the program pregnant. 


6.      How can the veterinary community help?

I hope that the veterinary community at large can move from talking about wellness to making institutional changes at every level that support wellness and everything it encompasses, including having children and balancing work and family.  The veterinary profession is majority women now and most people have children.  We need to recognize that training coinsides with other important life events for most people, which includes wanting to start a family. 


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