Even with proper planning, managing maternity and residency can test the toughest among us, especially when facing a seemingly immovable object such as limited pregnancy leave. Coral Tieu, MD, a fifth-year chief resident in otolaryngology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, is currently pregnant with her third child and readily admits that her experience has tested the limitations of her time, energy, and ingenuity.
“I haven’t had many options because the ACGME [Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education] is the body that governs time off. Six weeks a year is the maximum amount you can take and that includes sick time and vacations. With my second pregnancy, I took two weeks’ sick time and three weeks’ short-term disability, then couldn’t take vacations. Plus I had to make up calls for a year,” she said. “This time I’ll be taking five weeks’ maternity leave, and I’ve made up my calls in advance.”
Given the limits of official benefits, it is often incumbent upon the medical practice team to establish policies that are fair and cooperative. For numerous cultural and practical reasons, some specialties tend to be more flexible than others. Not surprisingly, training programs in ob-gyn have led the pack in developing schedules to accommodate maternity. Drs. Woodson and Tieu both credit the culture of otolaryngology, which they say is more family-oriented than many other specialties, for fostering a forward-thinking environment; however, they note that other departments, such as general surgery, are much more rigid and tradition bound, recalling the days when pregnancy was regarded as an illness.