Taking medical leave

The balance between work and home can sometimes be challenging. And perhaps no time is more challenging than when you need to take medical leave.

Five years ago, Dr. Jean Bainbridge, a general dentist from Dallas, needed to put her practice on hold briefly after undergoing a total knee replacement. To get the office ready, she made sure to keep her staff and patients on the same page.

Dr. Nguyen

Dr. Nguyen

“I openly communicated with my patients that I would be out of the office but if they needed me I would see them or refer them to another exceptional practitioner,” said Dr. Bainbridge, who also personally contacted all the specialists and general practitioners the office would be working with in her absence.

“We want to make sure the doctors we would be referring to would be available and knew I would be out of the office,” Dr. Bainbridge said. “I had a comprehensive list for my staff with all relevant info on the doctors we were referring to and then had my staff make the appointments for our patients as they usually would.”

After taking three weeks off to recover, Dr. Bainbridge then returned to work on an as-needed basis. “I was slower than normal but it was great to be back being productive and having something other than my surgery to focus on,” she said. “I also attended an out-of-town meeting four weeks [after surgery] by using some airport assistance and an extra chair to elevate my legs during the meeting.” In addition to letting her “talented staff” take the reins, Dr. Bainbridge credited her involvement with organized dentistry
for helping her leave go smoothly.

“I’ve had the opportunity to get to know most of the outstanding practitioners in the area and build strong relationships with them, which is invaluable when taking time off whether
for medical reasons or your family vacation,” she said. “Dentistry is a great profession which allows you the latitude to take time off if you have a great team, open communication with your patients and solid relationships with your fellow practitioners.”

Pregnancy is another time when dentists need to make accommodations for medical leave.

Dr. Robin Nguyen, an endodontist who works in a group practice setting in Central Florida, said when she became pregnant she made arrangements with her practice’s owner to let him know her good news and to share how long she anticipated being out.

Dr. Lohmann

Dr. Lohmann

“There was no set time for me to come back but I felt comfortable coming back to work part time, one day a week, four weeks postpartum, then returning full time two to three weeks after that,” said Dr. Nguyen, who graduated from dental school in 2009 and completed her residency in 2011.

Dr. Nguyen, who had her baby in August 2015, said she felt comfortable discussing leave and making the necessary changes to her schedule.

“Arranging time for leave was not difficult because I have a very understanding boss, and I am sure it was helpful being in a group practice where there are other doctors that could share the necessary workload,” she said.

Her advice to new dentists who are thinking about starting a family? Don’t be shy about what you think is most important for you and the health of your baby.

“It may be intimidating to discuss or negotiate with your boss, especially if you just joined the practice and being a new dentist, but you would be surprised at how accommodating they can be.”

During her pregnancy, Dr. Layla Chafi Lohmann of Dallas, had her leave all planned out — until some health issues forced her to deliver a month early. Even though she hired a dentist to fill in during her leave and talked to her patients, it was a stressful time. Her son was born with complications and required followup surgeries.

Suddenly, her plan to return after six weeks went out the door.

The compassion she’s received from her patients has helped in the five months since her baby was born.

“My patients have been great — no one has left,” said Dr. Lohmann, a general dentist who graduated from the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry in 2011. “They understand.”

For now, she’s working about 80 percent of her previous schedule and plans to return to full-time in August after her son’s surgeries are completed. She also plans to return to teaching part-time at Baylor University.

If she had to do it all again, Dr. Lohmann said she’d make sure she hired her maternity doctor earlier so that the fill-in doctor could have more time to observe the practice in motion.

“Ask them if they’re comfortable doing half a day two times a
week to see how they work. That’s the best advice I can give.”

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