By Suzanne LaKamp, OD, FAAO
Oct. 10, 2018
The last year has been momentous for me. Married in December 2017, and two weeks ago, the birth of my first child, a son. It’s a happy time, but one that comes with disruption and transition.
Here’s how these lifetime milestones are, and aren’t, already impacting my career in these early days of marriage and motherhood, and how I’m adapting to continue doing the work as an OD that I love.
As an employed OD in a shared OD-MD practice, I’m learning first-hand that practices that accommodate the needs of new parents can win a long-lasting, loyal workforce.
Maintaining My Professional Identity (and My Own Name)
I was married on December 2, 2017. I took my husband’s name legally, but maintain my maiden name professionally. Having practiced optometry six years, and beginning to establish myself in my career, it was important for me to keep the name professionally that my patients and professional colleagues know me by.
In addition to my patients knowing me as “Dr. LaKamp,” I have professional connections who recognize me by my maiden name, as well as the readers of publications like this one. My fear was that changing my name professionally would erase the visibility that I currently have.
Marriage Doesn’t Have to Impose Professional Changes
In young adulthood, relationships can pose career challenges. I never settled for a partner who did not support me, or refused to let me grow in my field. Sometimes career advancement meant relocation.
I’m happy to have waited on marriage until I was comfortable professionally, as I never had to limit my career goals or dreams. Marriage had zero impact on my work. I have the same business and on-call hours as before.
Build Bridges with Patients
Marriage and the birth of my son have helped me professionally. I have more topics I can discuss from a more knowing perspective with patients to build rapport. Asking about family or children is something that most patients are happy to discuss.
Before marriage, I welcomed family into exam rooms. I continue this practice. But now I take extra care to let parents with small children know they can take their time in the room if they need to feed, or calm, a young one. I’m aware of how difficult scheduling can be when managing a family and also making office appointments.
Confronting the Challenge of Working Through Pregnancy
Pregnancy was difficult while working full-time. I struggled with significant nausea. I tried to hide how sick I was, but my colleagues could tell something wasn’t right. Fortunately, I made the decision to notify my employers fairly early, at about 12 weeks into pregnancy.
My supervisor was relieved when I announced my pregnancy because she was worried that I was just unhappy with work! I started medication to help with nausea and to help me work. Announcing my pregnancy helped my colleagues know how to better help me, and also let my office plan my leave well in advance. Colleagues would see some of my patients when I was feeling unwell.
Help the Practice Plan for Your Leave & Pregnancy Work Needs
If there aren’t enough doctors in a practice to cover patients, a fill-in doctor may need to come into the business during a doctor’s maternity or paternity leave.
My fellow doctors would see my patients, without me even asking for help, when they sensed I was struggling. Staff would bring me muffins in the morning! Toward the end of pregnancy, I started having difficulties with blood pressure, and needed to take more breaks. This didn’t have too much impact on work flow, as quick breaks were sufficient.
I spoke with my technicians about alerting me to sick patients, whom pregnant women should avoid. In general, patients don’t come into the office when sick. However, it happens and sometimes the staff aren’t always aware. My technicians were great about notifying me, and a fellow colleague would see the patient in my place. If the patient had a viral eye issue, they could also have a systemic illness that I wanted to avoid.
My son was due September 29, but arrived September 24. My supervisor scheduled my patients lightly the week before I was due, in the event of an earlier delivery. My colleagues were able to absorb my schedule. I have a six-week maternity leave. My options for the short-term disability through my employer were six or eight weeks paid.
Enhance Care of Pregnant Patients
Most of my pregnant patients have a stable prescription, but I do have patients who experience vision fluctuation. These changes can be accommodated with contact lens trials (rather than a patient buying a year’s worth of supplies) if necessary. I also monitor the patient for stability. For instance, we will wait on refractive surgery if the prescription is not stable, and will have to wait until after breastfeeding ceases in some cases.
Changing hormones can also affect the ocular surface and increase dryness. Pregnancy, breastfeeding and patients undergoing fertility, or hormone, treatments can all experience fluctuating vision and dryness. For patients who are so dry they cannot tolerate contact lenses, we provide updated spectacle prescriptions. We also initiate dry eye treatments such as warm compresses and lid hygiene, punctal plugs and artificial tears. We limit medicated eye drops for pregnant patients.
Proper Planning Pays Off for New Parent & Practice
Whether through pregnancy, adoption, or fostering children, maternity and paternity leave will affect most practices. With careful planning on the part of the business owner or employer, the impact of leave can be minimally disruptive. Small practices will take a bigger hit, unfortunately. Larger practices with more doctors can accommodate leave more easily. Caring for the employee, even when not convenient, will increase employee loyalty.
It’s worth accommodating employees who are new parents. It’s important to remember that losing employees is costly, as is advertising for, and recruiting and training, new doctors.
Create an Accommodating Workplace
Pregnancy loss is another part of family planning which can impact a business, but which isn’t something that can be planned for. I miscarried my first baby, and had complications while at work seeing patients. My supervisor drove me to the doctor. I had unforeseen absences, and had to schedule surgery. Again, the doctors and practice accommodated me. Fortunately, I’m now on leave with a healthy baby boy.
How has parenthood changed, challenged and enhanced your work life? What tips can you pass along on making practices more accommodating to growing families?
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