Objectives: To examine medical faculty's actual and ideal parental leave arrangements with the aim of informing policy decisions. Leave lengths, effect on career, financial arrangements, and availability of temporary replacements were explored.
Methods: All medical faculty (6387) in Ontario, Canada were surveyed by mail and asked about parental leave experiences since 1990. Responses of men and women were compared as were those of leave takers and the entire group.
Results: Thirty-two percent (n = 996) of the 3107 respondents were women and 68% (n = 2067) were men. Ninety-eight percent (n = 317) of new mothers had taken maternity leave, while only 21% (n = 159) of new fathers had. Both paid and unpaid leave was generally shorter than that allowed by law or identified as ideal. Parental leave had a somewhat negative effect on the careers of all faculty. Women were more worried than men about the effect of their absence on colleagues' work and more generous with ideal leave length and funding. Temporary replacement of leave takers was central to an effective leave policy.
Conclusions: Institutional and academic culture may cause new parents to take suboptimal leave despite legislation allowing more. A change in the work environment is required for medicine to offer its teachers what it teaches--that infants benefit from nurturing, nursing, and stability early in life.