Longer maternity leaves are likely to produce health benefits (Staehelin, 2007; Calnen, 2007). And yet, as we have discussed in detail in Chapter 4, many physicians either do not qualify for or cannot afford to take unpaid leave as guaranteed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
In Canada, parental leave was greatly expanded in 2000 from ten weeks to thirty-five weeks, divided as desired between two parents. This is in addition to fifteen weeks maternity leave, giving a total eligible period of fifty weeks paid leave for a mother. Maternity and parental leave is paid for by the Employment Insurance system. As of 2007, the US is one of only five nations in the world that does not have a national paid maternity leave policy. The other four are Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea (Heymann, 2007).
One organization supporting paid maternity leave in the US is Moms Rising (www.momsrising.org). The Center for Law and Social Policy is also a leader in the campaign for national paid leave policy and publishes often on the subject (http://www.clasp.org). Additional information about family leave policies and movements within the US is available at PaidFamilyLeave.org.
Women having children need more information, communication, choices, and flexibility than most employment situations currently provide. Depending on the demographics of the doctors in your group and the general climate of your organization, you could consider lobbying for a uniform maternity leave policy/package if it does not yet exist. Include your supervisor and all physicians of reproductive age, both women and men, in the process. A basic template would save everyone work in the long run and cut down on the “special deal” aspect of the process. Instead of it being a “crisis” each time a woman physician has a child, preparing for that likelihood fosters a more sympathetic work environment for other physician-mothers. The policy template could include scheduled time off; coverage for clinical, educational, research, and administrative responsibilities; and scheduled time before complete return.