The Scope of Extraprofessional Caregiving Challenges Among Early Career Faculty: Findings From a University Medical Center

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Abstract

Purpose

Academic scientists work in competitive environments, and many institutions invest in career development supports. These investments may be imperiled when extraprofessional demands challenge a faculty member’s reserve capacity. This research assessed prevalence of caregiving challenges and estimated incidence of stressful life events.

Method

In 2015–2016, the authors surveyed recipients of career development awards supporting ≥ 75% effort and individuals within the funding period of their first National Institutes of Health R01 or equivalent at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Domains included family structure, hospitalizations of family members, responsibility for coordination of caregiving, and an inventory of stressful life events.

Results

Seventy-two percent (152 of 210) of early career researchers responded. Over half endorsed experiencing one or more substantial caregiving challenges in the prior year. This included 35 (23%) having a child or adult in the household hospitalized in the prior year and 36 (24%) being responsible for health care needs for a child or adult in the household, or for coordinating elder care, assisted living, or hospice care. The majority experienced one or more caregiving challenges. Stressful life events increased relative risk of “thinking about leaving academics” by 70% (risk ratio: 1.7; 95% confidence interval: 1.2, 2.4). Prevalence and incidence of caregiving demands did not differ by gender.

Conclusions

Leaders, administrators, mentors, and faculty should anticipate that most women and men early career researchers will experience substantial caregiving challenges and life events in any given year. Sufficient need exists to warrant investigation of institutional programs to address caregiving challenges.

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