Returning to Practice Post Pregnancy: Practice Owners/Managers

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Pregnancy | Health & Wellness

While every woman deserves to take care of herself post-pregnancy, it may be challenging for you to actually do that in real life: after all, you’re balancing the management of a business, the care of your patients and your employees, and the needs of your newborn child.

Often one of the major decisions for any woman post-pregnancy is when to return to work and on what schedule. As the owner of the practice, you have a little more latitude in making that decision, although you also have more responsibilities since your staff and patients have been patiently waiting for your return.

When contemplating your return to work from maternity leave, be sure to consider the points that:

  • the welfare of the patient is paramount in the doctor-patient relationship 
  • your patients expect that the dentist will perform to the best of her ability

As you make plans to return to practice, make sure that carefully evaluate your ability to focus on the needs of the patient and perform to the highest degree of skill possible when the maternity leaves ends. Additional guidance on this matter is can be found in both Section 2 of the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct which discusses Nonmaleficence and Section 3, which covers Beneficence. 

Consider these questions as you seek to determine the right time for returning to work:

  • Self-assess.
    • You know yourself better than anyone else. Take stock of how you’re feeling every week or so after delivery.
      • How do you feel about going back to work? Are you anxious, fearful, or ready?
      • Your answer is a clue as to whether or not you’re ready to go back.
    • Some women are comfortable going back to work, possibly on a reduced schedule, 4 to 6 weeks after delivery; others prefer to take more time, anywhere from 8-12 weeks.
    • Stay attuned to how you’re feeling mentally and emotionally. It’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed.
      • Talk with your physician about any concerns and seek support if it might help you feel even a little better.
  • Talk with your physician and follow his/her advice.
    • Bring a list of specific questions to your doctor’s appointment. Possible topics to cover include:
      • the physical demands of dentistry (a copy of your job description would be helpful)
      • suggestions for balancing the many demands on your time and energy
      • ideas for integrating treating patients
      • managing the practice with motherhood; etc.
    • If you’re nursing or pumping, be sure to ask if your physician has tips on how to make the transition from nursing to pumping easier.
      • Refer to the article on "Breastfeeding/Pumping" in this section of the manual for more information.
  • Find out what resources may already be available in your community. If the resources you need don’t exist, work within your network of friends and colleagues to see if it’s possible to get those systems in place.
    • Dental offices facing temporary staffing shortages in various situations, such as maternity/parental leave, sometimes hire locum tenens dentists to fill those gaps.
      • Locum tenens dentists can support a practice for almost any time period, ranging from just a few days to months and sometimes even years.
        • Check with your state and local dental associations to see if they have a list of locum tenens dentists in your area. Contact information for state and local dental associations is available from the American Dental Association.
        • If you decide to retain another doctor to treat patients in your absence, such as through a locum tenens agreement, consult your certified public accountant (CPA) to ensure that the dentist is properly classified as an employee and that you’re in compliance with any federal and state rules regarding worker classification.
      • Other options include forming a co-op among other dentists who are also new parents, taking turns staffing each other’s practices to support better work-life balance, or establishing a mutual aid agreement.
        • Mutual aid agreements in dentistry are arrangements among dentists who agree to temporarily cover a colleague’s office and patients until the dentist returns to the practice or, if the dentist is unable to return to practice, until the practice can be sold. See the Guidelines for The Development of Mutual Aid Agreements in Dentistry, a comprehensive resource developed by the ADA’s Council on Dental Practice, for tips on how to set one up and details on the protections and responsibilities involved in a mutual aid agreement.
        • It’s important to know that, in order for a patient to be fully engaged in and informed about treatment, dentists have an ethical obligation to inform them of changes such as the dentist being away on maternity leave, the temporary closing of the practice, or the decision to implement a mutual aid arrangement and/or involve a locum tenens dentist in the practice. Guidance on matters relating to Patient Autonomy is available in Section 1 of the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct

Be sure to seek support – and help – if your baby has special health needs. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) publication SURVIVE and THRIVE: Transforming care for every small and sick newborn offers valuable information to assist parents of infants with health issues.

A few weeks before you return to work, consider hiring a night nurse to look after the baby so you can get some uninterrupted and restful sleep.

  • Decide how to notify patients that you’re returning to the practice.
    • Some states have no legal requirements mandating that you notify patients that you’ll be on leave. Make sure you know the laws in your state.
    • Recognize that some patients, especially those on a six month recall schedule, may not even know that you were on leave.