November 2023

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, guest blogger, Dr. Emily Taylor Yunker, CVMRT, CVH discusses how to properly plan for a leave of absence from your veterinary clinic. If you’re taking a leave of absence or Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) – whether for maternity, paternity (Yeah! to any company that offers this!) or due to caring for a family member, you’ll want to keep reading.

Planning for a Leave of Absence

By Emily Taylor Yunker, DVM, CVMRT, CVH

Veterinary professionals are whole complex humans with many facets. We are caregivers not only for the animals in our lives, but for other humans we are in connection with. We have interests and inspirations that include much more than our day-to-day work tasks.

At some point, these facets of our lives will inevitably result in a shift in priorities. And for almost everyone, there will be some period of time for which that means stepping away from a job entirely, at least temporarily.

As a doula, I tend to see the times when families are welcoming new members, taking time off to integrate this new reality. Personally, I am entering the time in my life where I consider the needs of my aging family members and my own changing body. Many of us also find that as our careers evolve we have interests that diverge into research or altruism, and a sabbatical may be indicated to devote time to any variety of projects.

A Leave of Absence (LOA) could be called maternity leave, paternity leave, parental leave, sabbatical, Family Medical Leave, or just personal leave. Whatever the reason and whatever it is called, a prolonged absence from your workplace can be anxiety-provoking to plan. If it is not well executed, we leave coworkers unprepared and frustrated and/or we end up answering urgent questions on our mobile devices when we are supposed to be focused on something else entirely.

As a doula for veterinarians, and as a mother of three myself, I have a recommended method for these situations to provide some structure around planning an LOA. I believe that if we learn to delegate well, we redefine the experience of early parenthood for ourselves and become part of shifting the cultural narrative around motherhood. The need obviously extends well beyond the new-parent phase of life, encompassing all of our facets as whole complex human beings.

This method is applicable to everyone from entry-level assistant through CEO, front of house, back of house, industry, academia, and even solopreneurs. It will obviously be more challenging for those with layers of responsibility, whether within complex organizational structures or solopreneur enterprise. (The Veterinarian Doula is a one-woman show. I get it. It takes a village, y’all.)

Leave Of Absence Plan Overview:

  • Make a BIG List
  • Eliminate from the List
  • Make a list of people
  • Pencil in a person for each task
  • Get explicit acceptance from the person to perform the task
  • Train the person to perform the task
  • Determine who the person will contact with questions (NOT you, ideally)

BIG List
This may take some time. Give yourself at least a few weeks to do this. I suggest using a spreadsheet on a share drive so that anyone who needs access can see who is doing what. Make a big list of every single thing you do on the job. All of it. Even the most mundane. Do you check the mail on your way in? Put it on the list. Think about every task you do on a given day, and then pick a different day with a different flow. Consider whether your leave will include holidays or events that are outside of normal daily activities.

Let It Go
Channel your inner Elsa. What can you let go from the list? Are there any tasks that can just stop? Until you get back or even forever? What can wait or come to a natural end? The shorter you can make the BIG List, the more you can give yourself grace and space for what is to come.

Hands holding a piece of paper that says let it go.

Every single thing left on that list will have to be done. By someone else. So now is the time to look at that spread sheet and start putting a name next to every single task listed. This is not an assignment, but rather you considering who may be the best fit or option. Feel free to put multiple names there while you are in this initial phase. Editing is inevitable. Some tasks may be obvious if there are others in similar roles that will step in to get the job done. But there will be specific tasks that may require more planning or creativity. Ask for input from your leadership as well as your team.

Get Agreement
Talk to each and every person on your list. Take nothing for granted. Do not simply assign a task or inform a person that you want them to do a task. Gain an agreement. And for most tasks, get it in writing. Make them sign it. Remove all room for misunderstanding. Update the spreadsheet with an indicator that the task has been assigned and accepted.

A person is scrubs shaking someone's hand

Train the People
Ensure that the task will be performed to the standards you expect by teaching and then observing the person doing the task. Obviously, some things (the mail example above) are pretty simple. But even then: Where is the key kept? What if the mail is addressed to someone else? What if the mail is addressed to you personally but you are not there? Think through everything this person needs to know to perform this task the entire time you are gone.

Contact Person
While you are gone, you do NOT need to be the person to call for little annoying tasks like lost passwords, forgotten protocols, or general hand holding. You MAY need to be the person to call for major decisions that impact your career, your reputation, your paycheck, etc. But long LOAs are the most obvious and clear time to master delegation. Choose your people well, train your people appropriately, and you will not need to be contacted for almost anything. Learn to let go and delegate. Ensure each person on your list knows who to contact if they have a problem, and make sure they know how to contact that person appropriately. Who is checking in on them? Who is making sure the task is completed correctly? (Not you.) As an extension, make sure they know under what circumstances you DO want to be contacted and how to do so. Twice weekly emails from a practice manager with updates? Weekly phone call with team lead? Text only as needed under the following circumstances?

A pen on a piece of paper that has a spot for a list of names

We have a responsibility to those we work with to effectively make and execute a plan for leave. Don’t leave them picking up the pieces when you drop a bomb and walk away. Just as importantly, creating a robust plan with every single task delegated allows you to truly take a leave of absence rather than just working while away.

This is so incredibly important. Because babies don’t wait, last good-byes are forever, and your mental and physical health are important. Learn to walk away. Learn to take breaks. Part of that lesson is learning to delegate well.

We are in this together.

More resources:
Automation and Delegation for Working Moms
Delegating Like a Pro

Dr. Emily Taylor Yunker holds a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Auburn University. She practices small animal medicine in Cary, NC. Dr. Yunker is also The Veterinarian Doula, a doula and childbirth educator, working one-on-one virtually and teaching classes for veterinarians specifically as they navigate the transition to motherhood. She also writes and speaks as an advocate for all parents within the veterinary workplace, bringing awareness to the needs of parents so we can improve workplace wellbeing and support employee retention. Dr. Yunker lives with her husband, three children, and three cats on a (non-functional) farm near Pittsboro, NC. In her non-existent spare time you can find her puttering about with herbs in the garden.

Please note the opinions and views of this author and not directly or indirectly endorsed by VETgirl.

Only VETgirl members can leave comments. Sign In or Join VETgirl now!