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Women Dentists and Maternity Leave

My wonderful business partner and friend, Dr. Erin Thomas, just went out on maternity leave.  Her and her husband are expecting their first child any day now.  I imagine expecting a newborn child is a crazy time for a couple, full of excitement, joy, and sheer terror.

Our office has been going through many of these emotions along with Erin and her husband.  Today marks the first day that I’m flying the ship without my co-captain and it is a bit intimidating.  Sure, there are thousands of solo practices out there, but our start-up practice has functioned as a partnership for the past three years.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what to expect over the next several weeks.

Fortunately I’ve been to several New Dentist conferences and know many women who juggle being a dentist with being a mom.  The handful of months leading up to and right after the birth of the child can be very different for women, but there is much that they share in common as well.

My buddy on her last day before maternity leave.

My buddy on her last day before maternity leave.

How long should maternity leave last?

The shortest maternity leave I’ve heard of was three weeks and the longest was almost three months.  Of course the major factor is the health of the mother and the baby.  But it can and should also depend on the personal choice of the mother to spend the appropriate amount of time with their newborn child.  Or course this is something I can’t discuss as a man and as someone who isn’t married with children.  But I respect a woman’s wishes to take all the time they need to set up their new routines and bond with their child.  On the other hand, I also know a few women who were completely bored watching daytime television and couldn’t wait to get back to work.

Do you get paid?

Well there’s an interesting question.  An independent contractor only get’s paid when she works, so unfortunately there won’t be any income while she is on maternity leave.  An associate might be able to negotiate some form of payment with their owner dentist but I’ve personally never seen that kind of arrangement.  Only an owner dentist can predictably expect some income while on maternity leave assuming she has a partner or an employee dentist (independent contractor or associate) who can continue to treat patients.  The amount of cash flowing to the new mom is variable depending on the partnership agreement and the productivity of the employee dentists, but it can be expected to be less than normal since the woman dentist is not producing herself.  If the office accepts third-party insurance then there will likely be some checks still coming in the mail while the dentist is on leave.  However that money may need to go to paying bills, which leads me to…

How does the office keep afloat?

Employee dentists don’t need to worry about this.  But if the woman is an owner she must consider how to keep the office moving while she is on maternity leave.  In Erin’s case she has me as a partner to produce most of the week.  That’s a nice perk of partnerships.  And I’m happy to do it since she puts up with me traveling to lecture all the time.  However there is one day a week that I have other commitments and can not work in our office.  Rather than shut down that day and lose the hygiene production, we opted to bring in an independent contractor to do hygiene checks.  He’s a semi-retired dentist I know from my local dental society who offers his services to dentists who can’t work for a period of time.  Personally, I would not have been comfortable with hiring a stranger to represent my practice.  This is yet another benefit of being involved with the ADA and organized dentistry!  Erin and I are able to rely on our community of dentists to help us along while she starts her family.

So that’s a guy’s take on maternity leave.  I’d love for the women curious dentists out there to share their stories and advice in the comments section below.  And I’d like to wish my partner and her husband a very happy and healthy new family!


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