This is the first of a series of articles on balancing parenthood with a rheumatology career.
Giving birth to triplets is daunting for any parent—even more so when you have to balance parenthood with a medical career that includes teaching and research responsibilities. This was the situation for Sujata Sarkar, MD, a clinical lecturer and research fellow at the University of Michigan (UM) in Ann Arbor, who was unable to work for nine months when she gave birth to her triplets three years ago. She says that her colleagues and coworkers were extremely supportive during this time. They pitched in and took over her on-call responsibilities, and her clinic patients were temporarily reassigned to other clinicians.
Because of this support and understanding, she cites only one major challenge upon returning to work: “I returned to work full time when my triplets were only three months old. The biggest challenge at that time was staying awake!”
With a growing number of women choosing rheumatology as their specialty and younger physicians seeking balanced professional and personal lives, the field will have to be nimble to meet the needs of today’s young physicians. The medical profession faces a unique set of challenges in this endeavor. It is not usually feasible to close up shop for several months to give birth—or even to take the day off because a child is ill or to attend his or her school play. Some specialties are more amenable to flexibility in scheduling than others, and with the proper planning and support, rheumatology can provide the adaptability necessary to enjoy a fulfilling career and a rewarding family life.
Some rheumatology departments are ahead of the curve and already have policies that help physicians succeed both at work and at home. All of the universities discussed herein—UM, Yale, and Temple—have policies allowing their faculty to exclude up to one year from the countable years of service that constitute the tenure probationary period for childbearing or dependent care.
The staff and faculty at the UM Medical School Division of Rheumatology are very familiar with accommodating the needs of expectant and new parents. According to Janet Stevens, administrator for Fellowship Program and Faculty Affair Issues, since 2002, the university has had 10 fellows and faculty members take time off when they became new parents (seven maternity leaves, two paternity leaves, and one leave for adoption)—with two more maternity leaves already expected this year. The division has made it a priority to provide as much support to its team members as possible.