We all know that completely different medical conditions can create the same effects on our patients’ work lives. That is, from the employer’s purely administrative standpoint, an absence is an absence regardless of its cause. Even medical care professionals react differently to similar effects rendered by completely different circumstances.
A Personnel Crisis
Let me give you a hypothetical example. You own or operate a busy, successful subspecialty practice. You employ six care providers and rely on them to treat many patients, do some teaching and administrative work and cover on-call obligations. Now picture this: Within a couple months, four of them reveal that they have health issues and will need to take two–three months off. Two or three of them will take time off simultaneously, and this will begin about six months later.
As a caring employer or manager you would be very understanding and supportive, but let there be no mistake, this situation presents an impending personnel crisis. You will need to confer with all staff about covering patients, following test results, sharing teaching assignments and reorganizing the on-call schedule so the after-hours burden is fairly redistributed. You would have to be either naive or a saint not to raise an eyebrow and consider the situation difficult and, perhaps, overwhelming.
The rational part of your cerebrum would question why in the world you passed on that tidy pharmaceutical research position that was offered to you years ago. Despite the obstacles, you roll up your sleeves, try not to violate your employees’ right to keep health issues private and take care of the business.
Now I ask that you take a deep breath and imagine that you have the same personnel scenario, but rather than operating a private practice you run a fellowship program where the same number of your trainees tell you that, about six months from now, they simultaneously will be missing in action due to maternity leave. Now, would you as readily label that situation a crisis? Would you be equally eager to schedule meetings with all of your staff and divide up the work? Would doing so interfere with the expectant mothers’ right to privacy? Would any such right to privacy have any practical application once the expectant mother is five or six months into her pregnancy and, to anyone but the blind, obviously “in a family way?”
Before preceding any further, and in an effort to lessen or defuse any undue controversy and speculation, please allow me to clarify. I am a mom. I have a mom. I adore babies. Many of my dearest friends and relatives are, have been or will be moms. I support birth and the continuation of our species upon this planet. I harbor absolutely no ill will toward those who are, may be, will be or have been pregnant. My comments in this article are addressed solely and objectively to the means by which we may effectively deal with, plan for and accommodate the impact that pregnancy-related absences have upon the mothers’ workplace.
Let me describe an experience of my own. Immediately after residency I worked in a busy primary care clinic with an extremely high patient volume. The clinic was pro family and, rightly so, took pride in that attribute. Within the first few months, I found out that two of my colleagues were expecting to give birth. I congratulated them and went about my business, but foolishly never thought to ask administration about how it planned to provide care for the expectant moms’ patients when they simultaneously took their three-month leaves of absence. Perhaps being green, I simply expected that my employer, the majority of whose staff was women, certainly must have dealt with similar issues in the past. I reasonably expected that it would hire some temporary additional help to cover this completely foreseeable lack of personnel rolling directly toward us like a freight train. Silly me.