As women in the medical workforce increase, women physicians are faced with the unique position of training the hardest they ever had in their lifetime cutting into precious childbearing years. Many women physicians seek time off or engage in part-time jobs to address the dilemma of fulfilling the obligations of their careers while enjoying the tender years of their babies. Others pursue non-clinical routes such as medical chart reviews or telemedicine jobs imparting advice online for a baby-friendly schedule. They are reminded ad nauseum that these are years they will never regain. How does a physician mother enjoy her children with long absences from the clinical realm and retain medical employability? Is it possible to have it all?
Get your ducks in a row
It never hurts to be the best of who you are. This helps tremendously when you call upon your old skills and experience as leverage for extended periods of absence. Early in your career, work as hard as you can so your seniors give glowing reports. Extra call schedules, no problem! Say yes every single time ungrudgingly. It buys you employment credit when you need favors later, the grittier, the better.
A naive young specialist in a big city was called to handle the nighttime and weekend interpretations of studies. Being least senior, work experience is always a plus. Fast forward ten years later, a prominent physician calls during your job search. You harken back on your extensive background including interpreting an insane volume of readings. It reflects that you are reliable, responsible and hard-working. It is a positive to assume the most disliked tasks; this is rewarded when you recount your experience. If you have a subspecialty, ensure you incorporate it into all of your positions. You are well-rounded in your field and have an added expertise to offer that is unique. If you are offered extra responsibilities, such as a chief of clinical services, if you are free to do so, take it. It is especially impressive on paper. Jump on any opportunities to learn something novel in your positions. Start saving up boatloads for a rainy day.
It is a pain in the neck — but no matter how long you have been away from the clinical field, never fail to keep your credentials current. It is even more painful if you are completely taking time off without an unending supply of income for exorbitant fees. In the long run, you will be a much more viable candidate. This is especially true when that employer asks if your license is current and when can you work? If you stumble with an, “Uh-um I haven’t paid my dues yet, how does that look?”, it appears ill-prepared and uncaring. Sayanora! Kiss that job offer bye-bye! Your competitor, that bright shiny new graduate, quickly looks more appealing. Keep any absences less than two years. Even after a two-year fellowship, it becomes more difficult to remember the general aspects of your field. You become rusty. Employers are more forgiving of gaps if your clinical background is strong. But the longer the gaps, the harder it is to get back.
Save, slash, cut back
Being accustomed to the cushy lifestyle and salary of an attending physician, reality quickly bites you during your self-imposed hiatus. Ask for discounts and waivers to trim the fat. Certain professional journals waive their fees if you explain you are not working in a clinical capacity. Some states allow you to practice even after long absences after you pay your dues. Other states exact continual fee payment. Lapses result in a reapplication process which can take a year. Some fees can be foregone and paid later with minimal interest. Continuing medical education can easily be obtained free online. Ask about requirements for reinstatement and penalties before dropping credentials. If necessary, downsize to an apartment, live on one car, do installment medical payments, ask huge medical fee discounts or waivers, stop shopping to excess or move to a cheaper city to slash bills. Drastic employment changes call for drastic life changes. Your largest bills will be rent, health care, and student loans. Small children do not need much — a roof, food, clothing, health care and attention. Everything else is fluff. Playgrounds, parks and the beach are free. The tradeoff is immensely gratifying when you keep your eye on the prize, time with the little ones.
Go for gold
Time to apply for “the job.” Ignore negative nellies and recruiters who call you astounded by your gaps. You know your worth. You must deliver the goods on a silver platter. List the positions that make you stand out including leadership positions — like chief resident or advisor on medical quality assurance. Include teaching positions if your hospital performs in a teaching capacity for academic centers — impressive titles accompany this role. Include laboratory or clinical research; it sets you apart. Minimize to a few key journal publications if applying for a clinical job. The cover letter is your magnum opus. Use your best vocabulary to display your skills to stand out from the rest. Expound on the hardships of clinical practice in today’s challenging schema.
Talk of medical business meetings, showcasing business acumen. There are hundreds of ways to give your experience extra shimmer while facing stiff competition. Pay attention to punctuation errors, grammatical errors and spacing issues. It shows you are detail oriented. Show integrity and never lie about what you want. Otherwise, you will get stuck in a job you abhor.
When the employer calls, you win half the battle. It is a matter of meeting to ensure you have no blatant, crass personality quirks. Give a firm handshake. Be honest that you took time off to spend with your baby if prompted. Emphasize you are ready to go back to work tomorrow and start spouting your clinical accomplishments. Now is the time to shine and hit it out of the ballpark.
Virginia Thornley is a neurologist who blogs at Neurology Buzz.
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