At ACR 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting with Elizabeth K. Arleo, MD, president of the American Association for Women in Radiology (AAWR). During our conversation, she asked me, as head of a private radiology practice in Wichita, Kan., if I would support a paid parental leave policy of 12 weeks.
I’m sure I had an awkward expression on my face, like a child with his hand in a cookie jar. I shrugged my shoulders, knowing our group had no defined policy. I thought to myself, “Oh no, we must be so far behind the bell curve on this that even the AAWR knows we are an outlier practice!” I was shocked when she informed me that although the AAWR and the Society of Chairs of Academic Radiology Departments issued a statement of support for 12 weeks paid leave in academia, no private practice in the country is known to have such a policy. As soon as I returned from the conference, I began to reflect on the benefit of a paid parental leave policy and the value it could bring to our practice.
Radiology as a specialty has the seventh highest rate of burnout in medicine. In addition, burnout rates among female radiologists (54 percent) are higher than their male counterparts (4 percent). One of the strategies proposed to mitigate burnout is to restore a sense of control over one’s work-life balance. Several of my colleagues have commented that they would have handled the time following the birth of their children differently if they’d had the option of paid parental leave. A paid parental leave policy places value on the bonding that is necessary immediately after birth or adoption and may help mitigate against burnout when a colleague feels their work-life balance in this crucial period is respected.
Culture change is important in creating an environment where a paid parental leave policy would be championed by a group and not viewed as a sign of weakness. One in five American fathers who have access to paid parental leave actually use it. Only 50 percent believe their employers would support them, and one-third feel that taking leave could negatively impact their careers. If we, in private practice, create a culture of acceptance for parents and support the nurturing of a relationship between parent and child, we will have come a long way in reducing stress for parents and making our work environment one that looks beyond a stack of films that need to be read.
A paid parental leave policy would also be advantageous from a cost-benefit perspective. As more households become primarily dual-income, a parent not having the option to maximize parental leave may decide to leave a job and take the necessary time off to be with their child. This would create a vacuum in the workplace as the time needed to find the best replacement would likely be longer than the time the parent would be gone on leave. Even if the parent were to return out of necessity prior to their desired time off, consequences on the job could be felt. They may be physically present but emotionally and psychologically absent — which could be even more costly.
Seeing all the upsides of a paid parental leave policy, I put the item on our agenda for our practice’s board of directors meeting. The pros and cons were discussed and the board gave me approval to move the discussion forward to the shareholder agenda.The policy was brought up in our shareholder meeting the same month. I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive the shareholders were in discussing the merits of such a policy. The policy was subsequently approved and a committee was created to establish the best way to implement it.
The most likely policy will utilize a combination of vacation, sick leave, and “borrowed” vacation from the next calendar year for those who qualify for parental leave — as defined by the Family and Medical Leave Act. The creation of a discretionary fund to put money away for a “rainy day” is also under consideration by the committee.
Leaders in the private radiology sector should work towards implementing a 12-week paid parental leave policy. The major emphasis of the ACR’s Imaging 3.0® platform is to transform our specialty from a volumebased to a value-based healthcare model. The best way to contribute to adding this value for our patients is by adding value to those who provide the services to them — and a parental leave policy will do just that. It will allow a parent time to bond with their child and lessen the stressors of financial security. It will lead to improved morale and increased productivity. Equally importantly, it will demonstrate an inclusive workplace that values the importance of a healthy and resilient workforce.