Once you have identified your clinical coverage, next determine explicitly what that coverage will entail. For example, will the covering physician deal with all of your patients’ abnormal labs but leave all the normal ones for you for when you get back? Will he/she update your patients’ medical records or not? What about signing off on hospital admission and discharge summaries? A plan with this level of specificity can save you problems both during and after your maternity leave.
Thanks to technology, some portions of most of our jobs can now be performed from a distance. With the ever increasing volume of email, another specific component of your maternity leave negotiations should be about your responsibility, if any, for responding to email while you are on leave. This is an important idea since email is currently the preferred mode of communication in most academic and some clinical settings and seems to be ever increasing in volume. For example, if you typically receive 25 emails a day (not including “spam”) and you do not check your email once during a six-week maternity leave, you will have more than 1000 emails waiting for you.
Most of us could easily spend a half a day a week on email during a maternity leave just keeping loose tabs on our jobs without actually doing any substantive work. Practically speaking, you could negotiate to read your email infrequently but not respond unless it was urgent. We have spoken with a few women faculty who have successfully arranged loose “be available” policies with their supervisors in exchange for more time at home. These arrangements translated roughly into “be available via email at least once a week.”
One new mother reported to us that being available by email in exchange for a longer maternity leave was very satisfactory to both her boss and her family. Some continuity could be maintained in her administrative roles while she spent extra time with her infant. The risk of this strategy, of course, is being too available. Whether you incorporate email into your maternity leave negotiations or not, you should consider getting a separate personal email to send baby pictures and communicate with friends while on leave. If you use the same email address for professional and personal communications, it may be hard to resist checking your inbox. With separate email addresses, you do not have to see all the work waiting for you whenever you open your email application.