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Dealing With The Transition From Maternity To Reality

A good reason to take time off of work

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!


  1. I had a heck of a time returning to work after my second baby. We had also moved to a new town and I just didn't feel like I found my place. Now I've taken so much time of living abroad, I'm not sure what I'll do when we get back!

    1. I'll bet you'll ease right back into it! As an aside, we hope to do something like you guys have done in the near future, so I'll then be in the same boat!

  2. I am still a medical student, but it is absurd to think that 6, or 12, or 24 weeks erodes years and years of training and experience. And I also think most physicians are pretty attuned to their own level of proficiency. I have seen attendings refuse to do a procedure because they feel out of practice. If somehow time away makes a person rusty, most would take it upon themselves to revisit a simulation lab, scrub in to observe a colleague, etc. … Silly to think that even if somehow a particular skill erodes with several months absence, that a physician's basic good sense would erode too.

    1. That is a great point. I know that I have asked for assistance on procedures that I haven't done for a while, and that has nothing to do with taking time off it just has to do with workflow. Good luck to you!

  3. Thanks for sharing Dawn! My experience has been that the dance between career and motherhood never ends! I remembering hearing early on during my transition that you feel guilty at work and guilty at home, which is true, but doesnt have to be. I think it takes a lot of tinkering to find the balance, but in the end I never feel guilty at home. I know it is still the most important part of my life, and when I am at work, I feel so fortunate to come home to my family.

    It is a beautiful time for you and being a mom adds so much perspective :)


  4. Thanks, Sara! I never feel guilty at home either. Here's to finding the balance!


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