Instead, when the babies arrived, I found that the clinic’s “plan” was that, in addition to treating my usual roster of patients, I would somehow miraculously find extra time to take on the new moms’ phone calls, medication refills and scheduled patient visits. There was no conversation with management about how my schedule would be magically adjusted to accommodate these additional duties. I was not a happy camper.
You Might Also Like
Explore This IssueAugust 2015
Also By This Author
The resulting chaos and stress were, of course, pointless and totally preventable. But I had learned a valuable lesson. Over a year later, when the same scenario was presented by more oncoming babies, I did not hesitate to request that management adjust my schedule in order to allow me to cover my colleagues’ workload, and I respectfully suggested that locum tenens (i.e., temporary physician staffing) might be needed to provide essential extra help. I was pleased to see my employer took the necessary steps to address the impending absences. My schedule was better, I could more effectively cover my colleagues’ workload, and we brought on a locum tenens to help out during those months when the new moms understandably were at home with their babies. All in all, it was a remarkably better, less stressful and more egalitarian situation than before.
Open a Dialogue
What I encountered then and since is that we too often overlook the need to conduct an open conversation about how to handle pregnancy-related needs and absences. I advocate common sense planning for the natural and well-anticipated event of employees having children. It is not a sudden, unforeseen acute illness that needs to be addressed. There is plenty of time (normally about six months) to talk, plan, rehearse and behave normally to humanely and professionally manage the collateral effects that this physiological event will bring upon the mother’s workplace. Just as she should not feel guilty about taking time off after giving birth, nor should her colleagues feel overwhelmed due to her absence.
Advance planning is necessary, and it is foolish to hope that the unavoidable, but wholly predictable, fallout will somehow take care of itself. The issue should be squarely addressed, particularly in residence and fellowship programs when so many doctors in training are, thanks to biology, predisposed to starting families at this already busy juncture of life. Although both the issue and the solution seem obvious, my experience has been that they too often are inadequately addressed.
The responsibility to work out solutions falls as much upon expectant mothers as upon their employers.
The responsibility to work out solutions falls as much upon expectant mothers as upon their employers. Too many times, our impressions of pregnancy and its effects seem like leftover baggage from a different, bygone era. My female resident recently told me that during the specialty interview process, the female interviewees asked the questions about maternity policies so a visibly pregnant applicant would not fear that she was being singled out as an expectant mom and be perceived as a less competitive job candidate. Theoretically, this was a bright and brave idea, but I find it only a partial, and somewhat unsatisfying, solution.