2.21 Pregnancy, Childbirth and Adoption 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 or adopt 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 parents and newborn while providing a realistic option for the student 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. Students who are expecting the birth or adoption of a child during medical school should consult with their Society Advisory Dean or Advisor, 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 Counselor. We strongly recommend that students who are expecting the birth or adoption of a child consult with their own obstetrician or pediatrician 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 accommodation will differ depending on the phase of the program in which the pregnancy and birth or adoption occur. Regardless of the timing, a detailed plan must be developed by the student in close collaboration with and written approval of their 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 Phase

Students who have or adopt a child during the preclerkship phase of the MD program must decide if they wish 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, or instead choose to develop a scholarly project to work on during the interim period, during which time the student would remain enrolled in the MD program. 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 Faculty Committee  on Scholarship 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 their HST Advisory Dean or Advisor. The proposal and all the written approvals must be completed at least 3 months before the due date.

Principal Clinical Experience (PCE) Phase

A student in Pathways or HST who gives birth or adopts a child during the PCE and wishes an 8-12 week hiatus after the baby arrives will negotiate a return-to-clerkship schedule with the student's PCE site director and the HMS Registrar 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 phase, a break during the PCE does not 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 taking a voluntary Leave of Absence ("LOA") or working on a scholarly project for credit. The student should also discuss a plan for meeting the PCE longitudinal requirements during their 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 baby is expected to arrive.

Post-PCE Phase 

The post-PCE phase also does not obligate students to take a 12-month gap. Rather, post-PCE is a combination of clinical and non-clinical experiences during which time the student can maintain full-time enrollment (12 weeks out of 24) in each discrete academic year, including scheduling scholarly project months (see Section 1.03 for specific enrollment requirements). It is therefore theoretically possible to arrange 4-12 weeks of unscheduled time afer the baby arrives without changing the graduation date. The student should work closely with the HMS Registrar to ensure all requirements for graduation, including the required subinternship, AISCs (Advanced Integrated Science Courses, for Pathways students), USMLE Step 2 CK and the HMS comprehensive exam, the Clinical Capstone, 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 a course schedule that facilitates unscheduled time after the baby arrives. In all cases, the plan must be completed and approved by all parties at least 3 months before the baby is expected to arrive. 

Childbirth Leave While Enrolled in Another Degree Program

Students who are enrolled in another degree program at the time of the birth or adoption of a child (e.g., MBA, MPP, MPH, PhD, MMSc 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 parental leave.

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


Updated 7/1/21