Editor's Note: Second in a two-part series
Lest anyone forget, it is essential to support workers having children for one reason—the continuation of the human species, says Rachel Lovins, MD, SFHM, who directs the hospitalist program at Waterbury Hospital in Waterbury, Conn. For HM program directors, that means following pregnancy labor laws. But it also should involve reasonably accommodating hospitalists who are balancing their new baby’s needs with the demands of their profession, says Dr. Lovins and other HM leaders.
"As there are more women in medicine, everybody needs to be more aware of this issue. We don’t want to make good talent feel uncomfortable with the process of taking maternity leave and reducing time," says Michelle Marks, DO, FAAP, SFHM, director of the Center for Pediatric Hospital Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
All HM program directors need to be aware of such federal laws as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act (www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm), as well as the corresponding laws of the state in which they work. Directors can contact their human resources (HR) department for assistance.
"Calling them upfront will save a lot of headaches later on," says Jasen Gundersen, MD, MBA, CPE, SFHM, chief medical officer of the hospital medicine division in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for Knoxville, Tenn.-based TeamHealth.
Here are some other recommendations on how HM directors can best manage pregnancy issues affecting their team:
The "R" in Relationship
There are many reasons why the director of a hospitalist group should develop a good relationship with the providers in their group, but one of them is that a hospitalist is more likely to tell her director sooner rather than later that she is pregnant, Dr. Marks says.
"Knowing your staff well and knowing them personally helps a lot, too, because you can gauge where they are going personally, as far as marriage, children, that type of thing," she adds.
The earlier a group leader knows a staff member is pregnant, the more time they have to plan for maternity leave. And the better the plan, the easier the leave is on the entire group, says Dr. Gundersen.
Generally, finding out that a physician is pregnant within three to five months of conception provides enough time to make adequate arrangements for coverage, Drs. Marks and Lovins note.
Before scheduling a meeting to discuss maternity leave and plans for returning to work with the hospitalist, the group leader should call HR to see if such a conversation is permissible, says Dr. Marks. A better approach might be to wait until the hospitalist broaches the subject.
"So many times the hospitalist will ask for counseling as far as what are her options of coming back," Dr. Marks says. "That opens the door for an open discussion."
Once the conversation starts, the group leader should gauge the length of maternity leave, her plans for coming back full time or part time, and the anticipated scheduling limitations or childcare considerations, Dr. Gundersen says.
"That’s not to say the pregnant woman can really predict all the time what’s going to happen," says Kerry Weiner, MD, MPH, chief clinical officer for North Hollywood, Calif.-based IPC: The Hospitalist Company, Inc. "Obviously, it’s a medical condition that can change and everyone understands that. It’s getting a feel of what you can actually know at the time."
If it’s the HM director’s intent to call the physician while she is on leave to see how she and the baby are doing and how the maternity leave is going, that should be discussed during the conversation, Dr. Gundersen says.
"If you establish upfront that you are going to make that phone call, I think that’s fine to do," he explains. "If you’re calling constantly and pressuring the person, I don’t think that that’s kosher at all."
—Rachel Lovins, MD, SFHM, director, hospitalist program, Waterbury (Conn.) Hospital
The Coverage Plan
Most maternity leaves are from eight to 12 weeks, although the length varies by HM program and individual. It is essential to have your group’s coverage plan outlined well in advance of the maternity leave.
In a private-practice model in which hospitalists work weekdays and have a call-coverage schedule for nights and weekends, a group leader can spread the extra work among the other hospitalists in the group because there are more hospitalists working during the day when patient census is higher, Dr. Weiner says.
Shifting the workload in other schedule models isn’t always as easy. "In the seven-day-on, seven-day-off model, because of that maximum patient-to-doctor ratio, I don’t think there’s any way to do it without hiring help," Dr. Lovins says. "It’s important to recruit per diems all the time. When you’re in a bind is the worst time to do it."
To limit the disruption to patient care and operations quality, the goal when using outside hospitalists is to contract with physicians who have worked with the group before and who know the community, hospital, systems, and patients, Dr. Weiner says.
For HM groups that use a flexible schedule, maternity coverage plans aren’t really needed, says Reuben Tovar, MD, chairman of Hospital Internists of Austin, a physician-owned and -managed hospitalist practice in Texas.
"We’re not salary, so that changes the dynamic completely. People who work more make more, and people who work less make less," he explains. "We are much more liberal about time off, because if a person is taking off to do what is important to them, like taking care of a child, then the rest of us feel better about doing extra work."
—Michelle Marks, DO, FAAP, SFHM, director, Center for Pediatric Hospital Medicine, Cleveland Clinic
Plans discussed at the outset with a pregnant hospitalist can change after the child is born, HM group directors caution.
"Particularly for the first child, people say, ‘I’ll come back full blast. Don’t worry about it.’ And they figure out how hard all that is in the first couple of weeks, and then I get a different answer," Dr. Tovar says. "I think the whole mom/wife/doctor thing is tough. I recognize how hard that is. Even though I am not in that role, I can see it."
Dr. Gundersen suggests group directors have a backup plan, in case the maternity leave lasts longer than expected or the transition back to work is delayed. "It really prevents you from putting pressure on the physician," he says.
If a hospitalist who had planned to come back full time decides that she wants to work less, a director should check with HR to see what the process would entail.
"Generally, we have to negotiate a time frame for when they can drop down" to part-time hours, Dr. Marks says. "It usually takes three to four months for me to be able to adjust staffing to make it work."
Back to Work
Physicians can return from maternity leave in a reduced role, but they very rarely drop out of medicine entirely, Dr. Marks says.
"[They] have put in a lot of time to get where they are," she says. "Plus, women in medicine are usually high achievers and very interested in their careers."
Yet hospitalist leaders should recognize that returning to work after having a baby is stressful. It will take some time for the returning hospitalist to develop a rhythm between her duties as a mother and a doctor.
Directors can review the hospitalist’s nonclinical roles, help with priorities, and perhaps reassign some of the responsibilities to colleagues, Dr. Marks says. With more women breastfeeding, it is important to provide a convenient space with a door that locks for women to breast-pump at work, she and the other directors say.
"The best thing in the world is to have colleagues that you trust and can rely on," Dr. Lovins says. "That way, people can help each other out in emergencies, like if someone has to take their kid to the doctor. That’s the kind of program I want to have and would want to be part of."
Lisa Ryan is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.