You yourself or clinician colleagues will undoubtedly take parental leave at some point. Clinically excellent clinicians and practices use this as an opportunity to enhance continuity and ensure high quality care.
I am expecting my second child in early 2020, which has reminded me about the importance of supporting yourself while pregnant. Much of that support actually focuses on planning for parental leave and your return to work. Here are a few things to consider:
1. It’s ok to ask for help.
Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is a physiological change that affects you. Remind yourself that being pregnant can sometimes mean you have less energy and/or have physical symptoms that impact your work.
2. Consider your clinical environment and whether you need to adjust how you provide care.
For instance, if you work in urgent care or primary care in the winter, you might want to wear a mask to reduce the chance of getting influenza from patients.
3. Recognize that patients might get really excited about your pregnancy.
As a primary care physician, I had known many of my patients for five to 10 years before I became pregnant with my first child. I was surprised at how excited—and inquisitive—some of them were. How are you feeling? What are you having? Where are you delivering? Do you have a name? What gifts do you want? What does your family think? Who will watch the baby when you come back to work?
And the advice was never-ending. I tried to take it in stride and know that they were trying to help. I politely declined to answer questions that might have been too nosy.
4. Investigate your benefits and be sure to use them:
FMLA? Short-term disability? Paid parental leave? There are many different possibilities for how your employer—and your partner’s employer—may handle time off after your baby arrives. Be sure to look into this well in advance and don’t be afraid to take the time you are given.
5. Plan for clinical coverage during your leave:
If you are still in residency or fellowship, talk with your training program and/or graduate medical education office to plan your leave. Make sure you are meeting the requirements to be able to sit for your board certification. Each specialty board is different concerning the length of time off before you have to add additional time to your training.
If you are a practicing physician, speak with clinical leadership to decide how to get coverage while you are away, and how this may (or may not) affect your salary or clinical bonus.
6. Plan for your re-entry into work:
If you think you might be nursing when you return to work, block out times for pumping on your schedule before you go out on leave. Ask if and how this might affect productivity expectations for your clinical time. The Affordable Care Act mandates that employers must give you time to express breast milk for up to one year from the birth of a child; however they do not have to pay you for that time.
7. Pregnancy discrimination is illegal but it still exists:
Although I haven’t experienced discrimination when I was pregnant or now as a physician mother, I do continue to wonder if I am ever treated differently as a woman with young children, and have consulted with mentors and friends who have been in similar situations to get their perspective and guidance.
8. Know that this time will pass, and you will emerge with new insights that make you a better doctor. Constipation? Heartburn? Leg edema? These were symptoms I was lucky enough to avoid until I was pregnant. Like any healthcare experience, pregnancy teaches you many things that can deepen both your empathy and perspective as a clinician. Enjoy the ride and what it teaches you to be a better doctor.