This article on KevinMD was published a week or so before the end of my maternity leave. As I read it, steam emanated from my ears. How dare the author insinuate that physicians lose their technical skills from taking time off equivalent to more than a mere weekend? What about those who must take prolonged time off for sick leave? And what about maternity leave? Are all female physician mothers, by the sheer reasoning that they had babies, now deemed incompetent?
First off, we all need ideal vacations from time to time. Unused vacation time can lead to higher stress levels and lower productivity (see how Americans compare to other countries here). The more likely scenario after a nice chunk of time off is to come back refreshed, not stale and rusty. When we become sick (as we inevitably all do from time to time since we are human beings), we need adequate time to heal physically in order to perform mentally.
I have now taken significant periods of time off of work for vacation, maternity, and sick leave, and I’ve never had a problem integrating back into the basic flow of my job. In fact, on my first day back to work this month, I had a patient go into anaphylactic shock in the OR – a very rare and deadly event. He literally had no blood pressure for a moment, but once I identified it I knew exactly what to do. I counteracted the reaction and saved his life with the fortunate and timely assistance of a couple of colleagues who I immediately called into the room (getting help is essential in these situations).
Integrating back into my work environment and performing the required tasks seemed like almost no time had passed. Of course there were a few changes to personnel, policies, etc., but mostly things were the same. What feels different is the transition each day from mom to MD and back to mom again. The preparations before a workday seem endless, and morning routines take longer than they used to. I must pick up my daughter from childcare at the end of the day, increasing my commute time and anxiety depending on how late my time in the OR has gotten. The evenings go by so quickly, and I feel I have barely seen her before she has to go to sleep. This is what other moms warned me about: not enough at work, not enough at home.
At the same time, I am excited to be working on this balance of career and motherhood. I’m currently fortunate to have the choice of both and to be able to explore their interplay. What about you? How did you feel returning to a work endeavor or other practice after a longer period of time away? Share your thoughts here!