"You shouldn't ever be made to feel like a second-class employee, and you should never apologize for a pregnancy," says Dr. Karen Felsted, MBA, MS, CVPM, a consultant with Brakke Consulting in Dallas. "And don't feel guilty about taking the time off. But you need to acknowledge that it's hard on a practice to lose you. And you should do what you can to make it as easy as possible on you and your practice—and on the next female associate who has a baby, too." For example:
Check your employee manual. "You need to know the policies so you're prepared to talk to your boss," says Dr. Felsted. "At some point, you're going to nail down the compensation and benefits you'll receive while you're gone. You might use a collaboration of vacation, sick time, and unpaid leave.
"Keep in mind, legally your practice can't treat you any differently than a person with a short-term disability," says Dr. Felsted. "Your boss can't fire you. And if your boss is reacting really badly, you'd have grounds to sue. Unfortunately, if that's the case, that's probably not somewhere you'd want to work anyway."
Be honest about your intentions. "You owe it to your boss to be honest about what you're thinking at the time," says Dr. Felsted. Of course, you may not know whether you'll be returning from maternity leave, she says. And if you're not sure or you know you won't be back, you should say so.
"Also, if you're pregnant at the time you're interviewing or being hired, you should say so," says Dr. Felsted. "Legally you're not obligated to, but it's a matter of fairness. If you don't you're creating the worst possible position for the next woman applying for a job at the practice." And if you do get hired, co-workers will remember that you weren't up-front. That doesn't create the right kind of work environment.
"If you're the behavior or ultrasound expert, you might train someone else to do the basics while you're gone," she says. "And you might offer to consult with the other doctors by phone about cases or read ultrasound images from home. You could do these things without totally disrupting your leave."
Ask your doctor about restrictions. "Your boss may require some kind of letter about what you medically can and can't do," says Dr. Felsted. She recommends talking to your doctor first to learn about any restrictions during your pregnancy so you can plan. "Most restrictions, such as not being able to lift heavy dogs, are easy to get around," she says. "And if for some reason the technicians aren't taking the radiographs, you can train them to do so."
Make it easy during your pregnancy. "If you can't do surgery, for instance, she recommends you offer to take other cases for the doctor who will be taking your surgeries," says Dr. Felsted. "Your co-workers will appreciate your effort to keep the workload fair."
Make it easy while you're gone. "Make sure you document long-term cases. "And if you've got long-term clients that prefer to see you, make a point of talking to them, explaining about your absence, and introducing them to the doctor they'll see.
With more and more women in the field, chances are one of your co-workers will have a child, too. You'll probably all help each other at some point, says Dr. Felsted, "and that approach creates stability.