June 29th, 2011

In a recent New York Times op ed, anesthesiologist and mother of four, Karen Sibert, argues that physicians have a moral obligation to practice medicine full-time, an obligation that arises out of (1) the fixed (or even falling) number of slots in residency programs  and (2) the growing shortage of doctors, particularly primary care doctors.  It is fair, Dr. Sibert argues, to ask students who aspire to go to medical school “to consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency.”  “Women especially” should consider whether they are willing to fulfill the “real moral obligation to serve” that a medical education confers.  Those who cannot put aside their naïve “rosy vision of limited work hours and raising children” should choose another profession.

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Sibert’s salvo in what Michelle Au terms “The Mommy Wars, Medical Edition” swiftly inspired a vigorous and thought-provoking debate.  Dr. Au — like Dr. Sibert, an anesthesiologist and mother — calls Dr. Sibert’s “views sexist, inflammatory, and frankly discouraging” and argues that “medicine needs to catch up with the rest of society, and as such adopt some of the models other industries have created to recruit and retain the best and the brightest, regardless of gender.”