Society of Women in Radiation Oncology issues paid leave guidance

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The Society of Women in Radiation Oncology (SWRO) is recommending that radiation oncology programs allow for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all physician and physics residents and faculty, according to a newly released recommendation.

The guidance, published May 11 in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology and crafted by a team led by Dr. Claire Baniel of Stanford University, calls for increased accessibility of family and medical leave policies through updated departmental policies. The society also noted ways departments can support lactation, childcare, and mentorship.

"Through these suggested practices, we can change the cultural landscape, improve gender equity, and emphasize well-being for all in radiation oncology," Baniel and co-authors wrote.

Medical societies in recent years have updated their guidelines on paid family medical leave. In 2021, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) highlighted new institutional requirements that physician residents and fellows in accredited programs must be allowed to take at least one paid six-week family or medical leave of absence. In 2022, the American College of Radiology (ACR) passed a resolution recommending that physicians be provided with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave in a 12-month period as needed.

The SWRO's consensus statement was written by physician and physics residents, attendings, and ally members across the U.S., and was approved by majority vote by the society's 2022 to 2023 executive committee, it said.

"Achievement of competency must be evaluated rigorously, and trainees should have equitable opportunities to reach those goals while still addressing their own fundamental health needs," the society added.

So, what does all this look like for departments seeking to act on these recommendations? The society provided a framework that addressed areas of paid leave and departmental support, including the following.

For paid leave, the SWRO recommended financial support beyond the mandated six weeks of paid leave suggested by the ACGME. This could be in the form of short-term disability policies, state-funded parental leave support, institutional funding, or miscellaneous departmental funds.

For clinical coverage, the society recommended that departments make sure that an adequate coverage plan is in place, without a disproportionate burden placed on the employee requesting time off to arrange for coverage.

The SWRO also recommends support for women who breastfeed their children, such as providing an in-room computer and phone for residents to continue clinical work, and it suggests that departments work with residents on scheduling breastfeeding times.

For childcare, the society wrote that departments should expand access to onsite, emergency childcare for faculty and trainees whose children have mild illness or are faced with daycare closures. It also advocated for subsidized childcare for trainees.

"The cost of one year of daycare per child is, on average, $17,680 in the U.S.," the authors noted. "This figure represents about 30% of most residents' pretax salaries. This expense is prohibitive for many physician and physics residents, particularly those who live in high-cost cities or lack local extended family support."

Finally, the SWRO recommends that all residents be provided with a faculty mentoring network, including regular access to mentors who can support residents through significant career or life transitions.

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