2.21 Pregnancy and Childbirth during Medical School

Office of the Registrar

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2.21 Pregnancy and Childbirth during Medical School

Recognizing that combining childbearing and undergraduate medical education is a unique challenge, Harvard Medical School is committed to supporting students who have children during medical school and to working with such students to facilitate the completion of their medical education. Our goal is to accommodate the immediate perinatal period and all of its demands on mother and newborn while providing a realistic option for the mother to continue making progress toward completion of the MD degree.

Considering the relatively complex decision-making that surrounds having a baby while in medical school, no written policy can cover all contingencies and unique circumstances. As in many aspects of medical school life, there is no substitute for open and timely communication, cooperation, and good-faith efforts among all parties involved. A student who becomes pregnant during medical school should consult with her Society Master or an Associate Master, with relevant course, clerkship, PCE directors, or project supervisors, and with the HMS Registrar. Students who are recipients of financial aid must also meet with their Financial Aid Officer. We strongly recommend that students consult with their own obstetrician regarding prevention of potentially harmful exposures in hospital and/or research environments.

Because the structure and demands of the HMS curriculum vary across the four-year program, the approach to childbirth accommodation will differ depending on the year of the program in which the pregnancy and birth occur. Regardless of the timing, a detailed plan must be developed by the student in close collaboration with and written approval of her Academic Society, all the appropriate course, clerkship or PCE directors, and the Registrar. This plan must be completed and approved by all parties at least 3 months before the due date.

Preclerkship Years

The New Pathway preclerkship program (Fundamentals of Medicine) is essentially two year-long sequences of block courses, each combined with a longitudinal patient-doctor course and semester-long courses in semesters 1 and 2 of Year I and semester 1 of Year II. Students who deliver a child during one of these periods ordinarily will need to take a leave of absence (see Section 2.09) from medical school and return to course work in the following year to resume courses at the point of departure for childbirth. The student may choose to develop a scholarly project to work on during the interim period, which could meet the Scholarship in Medicine graduation requirement for students who enter HMS in August 2011 and beyond. See Section 1.05 for guidelines and requirements for scholarly projects that require additional periods of enrollment at HMS; these apply and must be followed in such circumstances. All students who choose to pursue a scholarly project must develop a proposal in conjunction with one of the Research Fellows in the student’s Academic Society. This proposal must be approved by the Scholars in Medicine committee and meet the School’s criteria for full-time enrollment as determined by the HMS Registrar (Section 2.07). Students enrolled in the HST MD program should consult with the HST Master or Associate Master. The proposal and all the written approvals must be completed at least 3 months before the due date.

Principal Clinical Experience (PCE)

A woman in either the New Pathway or HST who gives birth during the PCE and wishes an 8-12 week postpartum hiatus will negotiate a return-to-clerkship schedule with her PCE site director under the same policies that apply to any student missing time from the PCE (See Principal Clinical Experience [PCE] Requirements in Section 1.03).

Unlike the preclerkship years, a break longer than 8–12 weeks during the PCE does not necessarily obligate a 12-month gap. Working with the PCE site director, the Academic Society, and the Registrar, the student could resume clerkships at a mutually agreed upon time. During that break, the student would have the option of either an LOA or working on a scholarly project for credit. The student should also discuss a plan for meeting the PCE longitudinal requirements during the postpartum hiatus. The plan for time away from clerkships and the PCE must be completed and approved by all parties at least 3 months before the due date.

Advanced Experiences/Final Year of Medical School

The post-PCE year is largely elective and requires a minimum of 8 months of a combination of clinical and non-clinical coursework during a 12-month period (see Section 1.03 for specific enrollment requirements). It is therefore theoretically possible to arrange 8-12 weeks unscheduled postpartum without changing the graduation date. The student should work closely with the HMS Registrar to ensure all requirements for graduation, including the required subinternship, USMLE Step 2 CK and CS, and the HMS comprehensive exam, as well requirements for full-time enrollment status (Section 2.07), can be achieved. After the PCE, the LOA and scholarly project options are available as above, but the student also has the option of designing an elective course schedule. The plan must be completed and approved by all parties at least 3 months before the due date.

Maternity Leave While Enrolled in Another Degree Program

Students who are enrolled in another degree program at the time of childbirth (e.g., MBA, MPP, MPH, PhD, or other) should follow the policies of the school/program in which they are enrolled. The student should also follow the same process outlined above for notification of HMS officials (Academic Society, Registrar, Financial Aid), as the timing of graduation from HMS may be affected if the other degree is interrupted for maternity leave.

See also: Section 2.08 Policy on Length of Time to Complete the MD Degree


Approved by the HMS Curriculum Cabinet, September 19, 2011.



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