Anna Gilley, MD, often worries about what would happen if her toddler got seriously sick while she was at work and the nanny didn’t know what to do. Working mothers in other professions might be able to leave their job at a moment’s notice, but Dr. Gilley says she doesn’t have that ability as a pediatric hospitalist at Hendricks Regional Health in Danville, Ind.
“Being a hospitalist, when I’m at work, I’m definitely at work. I cannot leave,” she says. “I have patients to look after who depend on me.”
So far, her daughter, who turned 1 last month, has been healthy. But the possibility of not being home if her little girl gets sick or injured weighs on Dr. Gilley’s mind.
With HM still a young medical profession and hospitalists with small children common, Dr. Gilley is not alone in her concerns. They range from the issues working mothers across professions experience (fatigue, time constraints, work-motherhood balance, breast-pumping) to such challenges as nontraditional work schedules and patient obligations that are unique to physicians.
“Sometimes you feel like you are the only person in the world who is going through this, but obviously you’re not,” Dr. Gilley says. “There is always a benefit to having people who have gone through the same thing you are going through.”
Pregnancy and Maternity Leave
When Jane Yeh, MD, a hospitalist at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Wash., was pregnant with the first of her two children, she often would seek advice from a colleague who had given birth two years before. The guidance she received then is something Dr. Yeh, who has sons ages 2 and 4, now passes along to hospitalists who are expecting.
“Keep an open mind and don’t put yourself into a corner that you can’t back out of,” she says.
Having a baby completely changes a person’s life, so when hospitalists speak with their group directors about work after maternity leave, they should avoid committing to a full-time contract and fixed start date, and instead talk about opportunities for flexibility, Dr. Yeh says.
Upon giving birth to her first son, Dr. Yeh’s initial thought was to take three months’ maternity leave and go back to work on a 0.6 FTE basis. Eventually, she returned to the job after four months and gradually added shifts over the next four to eight weeks to reach 60% working time. “It was the whole first-time mother thing,” she says, adding hospitalists on maternity leave should openly and honestly communicate their work intentions with their director.
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Plan on taking as much maternity leave as possible under the law and workplace policy, counsels Roberta Chinsky Matuson, who has advised scores of pregnant women across professions about work-related topics as president of Northampton, Mass.-based Human Resources Solutions. “You can always come back early,” Matuson says.
While Hendricks Regional Health allows a maximum of 12 weeks of maternity leave, Dr. Gilley took 10 weeks. Under her seven-on/seven-off schedule, she works one week of day shift followed by one week off, and one week of night shift followed by one week off. “I think if I were working every day, I would have taken advantage of the full 12 weeks off, but 10 weeks was good enough for me,” she says.