At the end of this year, I sit contemplating all that happened during this difficult year. Surprisingly the biggest challenge was not running a veterinary practice during the ongoing madness of Covid. There is a lot of talk about the way practices are running now being “the new normal” as opposed to the days before anyone heard the word “Covid”. Well, I have a “new normal” too, but it has nothing to do with Covid and everything to do with work/life balance.
The best laid plans
My husband and I welcomed our daughter Faye into our family in 2018. It was a very difficult pregnancy but I managed to work up to 38 weeks and had my daughter at 38.5 weeks. Being out of the practice for two whole months seemed like a huge challenge at the time. I was lucky because everything went well at home and at the clinic during my maternity leave.
In 2021, my husband and I decided we wanted another child. To my surprise, I was told I was carrying twins. This is obviously a blessing but comes with the possibility of a lot of complications for someone my age—I’m no spring chicken. Early on, the morning sickness got out of control and I ended up with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a rare but severe type of nausea and vomiting. I owe my team so many apologies for witnessing and hearing the endless vomiting, of which I did not always make it to the bathroom. I became so dehydrated because I couldn’t keep anything down that I had multiple trips to the hospital for rehydration.
Like most clinics, we were short-staffed and I had begun covering shifts in rooms here and there to help the team. I was no longer reliable to do so, nor could I physically do it. At around 20 weeks, I was so ill and so many complications stacked up against me that I had to be pulled out of work. For anyone that knows me personally or professionally, they understood how difficult it was to walk away from my job.
New beginning, new challenges
Amazingly, I made it through the pregnancy and had a perfect set of identical boys at the end of August. They were born at 36 weeks and although one of them was just over 4lbs, they were healthy and didn’t need to spend a single night in the NICU.
We spent a few extra days in the hospital but then we were sent home and everything seemed routine—except that I ended up with postpartum pre-eclampsia and was hospitalized a week later, away from my babies. Then my smaller one had to undergo surgery for an inguinal hernia. After all that, then things sort of settled down. I planned to return to work 8 weeks after having the babies, full time.
My practice owner (a mother herself and grandmother to twins) seemed a bit leery about my plan and kept telling me that I would come back when I was ready to and not a minute before. She had also suggested I come back part-time so that I would not be overwhelmed at work or at home until the babies were a few months old and a bit easier to manage.
“This actually frustrated me because I was convinced I could do it all.”
I had my plan and I was determined to stick to it. I had even insisted that I would cover once a week to get some basic HR tasks done for a few weeks before I returned as my HR assistant needed to take a medical leave. Then surely, I would be ready to go back full time, right? Nope, wrong again! As it turns out, (at least for my husband and I) the process of dealing with a three-year-old and twin infants on either side of the day is just too much for one person to either get up and get going or get fed and down to bed.
So, where exactly do I squeeze in work then?
Much to my dismay, I had to accept that I could not work full time with two 12-week-old infants. This struggle has really made me step back and forced me to reprioritize a bit. I am one of those practice managers who insist that the staff has a good work/life balance. We designed our culture and practice flow to try to achieve that in multiple ways. I am also pretty bad at achieving that myself, even though I push it for other people.
“We as practice managers forget that we need to focus on our own work/life balance as well as our staff.”
My practice also needs my care but it will survive with me part-time for a while. I can make up time when I get back and catch myself up (Are we ever really caught up in this position?) but I cannot make up the time with my babies. The time will come and go and that’s it. I won’t get that time with my babies back. So, I choose them over work and I refuse to feel guilty about it.
I love my job. It is really a career for me, not just a job. I couldn’t work for a better person. I have every intention of continuing my career outside private practice in a few years. All of that is still possible because I am supported by an amazing practice owner and family. But it isn’t like that for all parents. There are practice managers who are fathers with these struggles as well and they shouldn’t be ignored.
Do what you can to be supportive of employees with kids
I have heard of many practices that are not supportive to growing families and parents and it is disheartening. Yes, there are laws to prevent discrimination against pregnant women but that’s not really what I am talking about. I am talking about the mothers and fathers who have to make painful sacrifices for their home life on behalf of the practice.
Maybe it’s a doctor whose practice owner won’t work with a schedule request that helps her/him see their kids before they go to bed. Maybe it’s a technician or receptionist who is denied coming in a bit later and staying later to get kids on the bus. Of course, the practice must be able to run and we need to be as fair as possible to all of our staff members, but there are times we can make simple changes that could help the lives of these parents be a little less stressful and a little more enjoyable.
Veterinary medicine is a hard field and it requires hard work and commitment. Like any medical job, that sometimes means less favorable hours and working on holidays. For managers, doctors, and owners, we do have to make sacrifices that are harder than others at times. There is of course great responsibility in these roles. Does it have to be that way? Sometimes, but not always.
The cost of not supporting parents working in practice
I certainly won’t speak for other parents but I would choose my children over anything. I am a CVPM. I have nearly a decade of experience in practice management and almost 25 years in the industry. I am confident in my performance and my knowledge. I have dedicated blood, sweat, and tears to get where I am in my career now, but if I were not allowed to adjust my schedule to my temporary life needs with intense parenting needs, I would have resigned from my position. This of course would be far more difficult for the practice to figure out than letting me work a little less for a few months.
Thankfully I am employed by someone who not only allowed this but recommended it before I even knew I would need it. Is it possible to do my full job part-time long term? No, but we can skate by for a few months while I do what we need to keep us going. I’ve delegated what I can and there are some things that are just put on hold until I come back full time. The practice will survive.
“It has taken some time for me to stop feeling guilty and realize that it’s ok. It’s not only ok, it’s normal to not be able to do it all. I have recognized my limits, mostly by walking face-first into a giant wall of limit.”
I don’t have to be superwoman and run the perfect practice and raise the perfect infants.
I need to ensure my family comes first and the practice comes second. This doesn’t mean for a second that I don’t care about the practice and that I am still not a valuable gear in the machine. This is something that we as managers and owners need to recognize and see in ourselves and our employees.
Most people are going to choose family first, but they are still dedicated employees. Work with them, so you can keep them. If you don’t, there’s a good chance they will leave you for an employer that will. I hear a lot of private owners refer to themselves as a “family-oriented practice.” But are they truly? I certainly hope everyone is as lucky as I am, and if not, we need to normalize that at times, we all need to step back from the practice and handle life for a while.
In conclusion, don’t try to be a super parent practice manager
You don’t have to and you don’t have to expect your staff to do it either. Be a human. Faults, hard times, and all. Continue to push that work/life balance goal for your staff and don’t forget to work on it for yourself.
“When I retire at the end of my career, I want to know that I did a good job and I did not sacrifice my home life for it. When my kids are grown, I want to know I did a great job with them too. The only way I can do that, is to find the balance. The blissful, elusive balance. If I can find it, so can you. It may not look the same for you as it does for me, but find yours.”