Mothers in Medicine Initiative to address baby crisis facing young female medical trainees

News release

VANCOUVER – Women doctors from across BC will meet in Vancouver on Friday, May 31, 2013 to strategize how to support female doctors in balancing family life with the intensive demands of a medical career.

The Mothers in Medicine Initiative, led by Dr. Mary Johnston – a rural physician, mother of four, and grandmother – seeks to educate, mentor, and support young women who wish to start a family at any time during their medical training and practice.

Female medical trainees are experiencing increased cultural and professional pressures to delay childbearing in the service of their profession. Many women physicians are subsequently waiting until they are established in their careers – usually in their thirties, when they have a much higher risk of infertility or serious pregnancy complications – to start their families.

The impact of these pressures on female physicians is significant. A recent position paper by the Society for Obstetricians and Gynecologist of Canada (SOGC) notes that there is an increase in infertility and in pregnancy complications with delayed childbearing and recommends women start their families before age 30. The paper points out that despite advances, reproductive technologies cannot compensate for age-related fertility decline.

The SOGC encourages informed decision making about child-bearing and advocates for the removal of barriers to healthy reproduction, including policies that are not family-friendly.

The trend towards delaying childbirth beyond age 30 is especially evident amongst BC’s rural medical workforce. A recent call for participation in a study found few rural women physicians under the age of 45 with families. The Mothers in Medicine Initiative wishes to see this trend reversed.

This initiative is particularly supportive of rural medicine as physicians with children are more apt to select and settle in family-friendly communities.

Practitioners requiring access to reproductive technologies or who may be experiencing difficult pregnancies may be less likely to choose rural practice.

The May 31st meeting of the Mothers in Medicine Initiative will form the basis for the development of a strategic document and engagement of women in medicine, medical schools, communities, and health authorities. Topics of discussion will include: ensuring medical trainees have a better understanding of fertility issues, allowing them to make informed personal choices; establishing a network of experienced physician mothers as coaches and mentors; and, building family-friendly training policies, programs and health care workplaces.

This meeting is generously supported by the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues and the Rural Coordination Centre of BC.

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Media Contact:

Sharon Mah, Communications Manager
Rural Coordination Centre of BC

1-877-908-8222 (toll-free)



“The Mothers in Medicine Initiative will address the challenges female physicians face when having and raising children during medical training or while practicing in rural communities. We want to ensure that young women graduates know it can be done…we’ve done it and we want to provide mentored support and policies that enable these young women to have a family at any point in their training or career.”

Dr. Mary Johnston, CPD Lead, Rural Coordination Centre of BC

Dr. Johnston is a rural physician based in Blind Bay, BC (on Shuswap Lake). She is co-leading a BC-based team that is assisting SRPC with conference organization and is the initiator of the Mothers in Medicine project.

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“The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada position paper on ‘Delayed Childbearing’ was a call to action for organizations across the country to educate couples on the risks of infertility and pregnancy-related complications. We need to support women at all stages of their medical careers as they have their families. I had my children later and that was the right time for me, but I have personal knowledge of some of the complications and the challenges of having your children in a small rural community. To be part of a historic gathering of women leaders in medicine to actively address the ‘barriers to healthy reproduction’ is a project I am honoured to be part of.”

Dr. Trina Larsen-Soles is a rural physician based in Golden, BC, and a former President for the Society of Rural Physicians of Canada. She currently chairs the Council on Health Economics and Policy for the BC Medical Association, the Committee on Health Policy and Economics for the Canadian Medical Association, and contributes to the Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues for the Rural Coordination Centre of BC

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“Knowledge about fertility is key to making healthy decisions about when to have a baby. Empowering women and couples with this information and the support they need is essential. The Mothers in Medicine initiative will provide inspirational leadership in BC and across Canada and will form a lasting legacy for future generations. “

Dr. Tracey Parnell, Lead, Research Evaluation and Quality Improvement Sector, Rural Coordination Centre of BC. Dr. Parnell is a rural physician in Cranbrook, BC with a special interest in women’s health issues. She is assisting Dr. Johnston in the Mothers in Medicine project.


“The Mothers in Medicine Initiative puts BC at the forefront, leading the way in creating informed and supportive environments for family-friendly programs and workplaces. Women need to take the lead and use their voice when policy decisions that affect women and their families are being made.”

Dr. Shelley Ross, President, BC Medical Association, and Secretary-General of the Medical Women’s International Association. Dr. Ross has been an active family physician in BC with a focus on the provision of primary care with an emphasis on obstetrics.



General statistics about delayed childbearing (SOGC Committee Opinion Paper)

  • Women who start their families in their 20s and complete them by age 35 face significantly reduced health risks.
  • Women who delay child-bearing are at increased risk of infertility maternal co-morbidity, pregnancy and birth complications, and increased maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality.
  • Prospective parents, especially women, should know that their fecundity and fertility begin to decline significantly after 32 years of age.
  • Prospective parents should know that assisted reproductive technologies cannot guarantee a live birth or completely compensate for age-related decline in fertility.
  • A recent survey of 360 Canadian undergraduate women assessing their understanding of reproductive aging found that while most were aware of the drop in fertility with age, they significantly overestimated the likelihood of pregnancy at all ages and were not aware of the steep rate of fertility decline with age.
  • Prospective parents should be informed that semen quality and male fertility deteriorate with advancing age and that the risk of genetic disorders in offspring increases.
  • If the trend towards delayed child-bearing continues, society can anticipate increased demand for reproductive assistance and associated increases in the need for more sophisticated prenatal, postpartum, and early development care. Small shifts in population distribution curves affect large numbers of women, which has important implications for the health care system.
  • The SOGC hopes to alert care providers to the implications of this emerging public health issue and supports the urgent need for better public information to enable more informed reproductive choices.

Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues

The Joint Standing Committee on Rural Issues (JSC) is a BC-based entity that includes representation from the BC Medical Association (BCMA), the Ministry of Health (MoH) and the health authorities. The JSC advises the BC Government and the BCMA on matters pertaining to rural medical practice and develops programs and policies for BC’s rural physicians.

The JSC recently announced the launch of a new incentive program, Rural Physicians and Specialists for BC, that would provide family doctors and specialists with a one-time $100,000 payment in exchange for a three-year return of service in one of 17 identified BC rural communities.

Rural Coordination Centre of BC    

The Rural Coordination Centre of BC (RCCbc) works to enhance rural education in British Columbia and advocates to improve the health of rural BC residents.

Working at the direction of the JSC, and in collaboration BC’s health authorities, post-secondary institutions, rural practitioners, and rural communities, RCCbc identifies gaps and overlaps in rural services throughout the province and creates initiatives to address shortfalls. It works to increase and sustain recruitment and retention of rural healthcare professionals to BC and to provide high quality, in-community healthcare to rural British Columbians.

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC)

Founded in 1944, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada is comprised of over 3,000 professional members, including gynaecologists, obstetricians, family physicians, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

A leading authority on reproductive health care, the SOGC produces national clinical guidelines for both public and medical education on important women’s health issues. The Society’s mission is to promote excellence in the practice of obstetrics and gynaecology and to advance the health of women through leadership, advocacy, collaboration, outreach and education


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