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Parental leave: worthy of recognition in specialty college applications?

Written by Dr Georgina Jenkins

Dr Georgina Jenkins is an intensive care registrar currently working in Melbourne


A recent Twitter post has sparked debate among the online medical community. The post by @DrZuranQureshi asked followers whether they agreed with the allocation of points for parental leave when applying for specialty training programs in medicine. Almost two thirds of those who gave a conclusive vote disagreed with the allocation of these points.

Currently, our College of Intensive Care of Australia and New Zealand (CICM) offers applicants up to three points for parental leave, in a structured CV that allows a maximum of fifty points across eight differing sections (1). The inclusion of these points primarily aims to prevent penalising time ‘lost’ to parenting that could have been spent earning points in other areas.

“In what way does having kids make someone a better ICU doctor? In what way am I a less competent doctor because I don’t have them?”

This comment by @coffeeheadaches was the most well supported on the tweets’ comment stream, receiving 100 likes.

I disagree.

The skills gained in parenthood can certainly transfer to the medical field and improve a doctors practice: time management, communication, humble leadership, multi-tasking, empathy… the list goes on. However, these skills are not unique to parenthood; well-rounded doctors bring a widened perspective and a variety of skills to the workplace. The selection criteria for CICM includes a section for “relevant personal experiences”, and taking parental leave is only one of many ways to gain points in this section. I see this as a hugely positive inclusion, one that advocates for a work-life balance that is often missing in medicine, and encourages doctors to pursue their passions outside of medicine.

In addition to this, parental leave represents a competing demand for achieving points in other areas; a competing demand that tends to fall mainly to women. Thus, without a system that rewards parental leave, women are effectively disadvantaged and penalised.

“Awarding points for having children to “not penalise parenthood”, will also discriminate against people that do not have the ability to have children and therefore I feel it is fundamentally unfair and wrong. By not penalising parenthood, you penalise childlessness.”

This comment by @the_learnaholic (almost) hits the nail on the head. Given these points can be gained in other areas, I disagree that childlessness as a whole is penalised. But what about those families suffering with infertility? This is the one group that is directly penalised by “not penalising parenthood”. These families expend massive amounts of time and energy trying to build a family, as well as an unimaginable deal of emotional distress. And their end goal is the same as those who have received points for being lucky enough to successfully have a child. So why is their time not recognised? And where do we draw the line, should allowances be given on the basis of any health condition?

Many minority groups and sub-groups are underrepresented in medicine: Indigenous people, those of a rural background and women to name a few. In order to lessen the barriers these groups face in specialising, CICMs’ structured CV grants seven points to those of Indigenous origin, and up to seven points for rural origin and experience. While the recognition of parental leave is not only for women, it represents an area that is highly dominated by women. In Australia throughout 2018-19, 93.5% of primary parental leave was taken by women (2). Women are one sub-group that is underrepresented in Intensive Care medicine, making up just 22.93% of CICM fellows (3). The recognition of parental leave lessens one hurdle that is faced by many women who aspire to specialise in Intensive Care Medicine, and I see this as a hugely positive advancement.

Image: Interaction Institution for Social Change. Artist: Angus Maguire

The points system is flawed. Its black and white nature fails to adequately recognise minority groups and niche individual life challenges. But should we scrap it entirely? Without structure, bias thrives. While granting points for parental leave does not come without its own flaws, it is a step in the right direction to achieving gender equity in training and encouraging doctors to thrive in life outside of the healthcare system.



3. Data sourced directly from the College of Intensive Care

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