Listen to the Defocus Media podcast interview with Jennifer Lyerly, OD, and Gabriella Olivares, OD, here
With optometry becoming increasingly female as a profession, doctors and workplaces alike are facing the challenges of providing the best work environments and balance for new mothers.
The American Optometric Association reports that 67.8 percent of full-time, enrolled optometry school students in the United States were female in the 2017-2018 calendar year, and 43 percent of all practicing optometrists in the US are women.1
These demographics are rapidly changing, and the industry is faced with making adjustments to accommodate the new workforce quickly. Just a decade ago, females comprised only 20.5 percent of practicing optometrists in America.1
Previously by Dr. Lyerly: New research on improving contact lens comfort for dry eye patients
New mom ODs
In this podcast, new mother Jennifer Lyerly, OD, talks with two other optometrists who are balancing their careers as new moms.
Gabriella Olivares, OD, has a 4-month-old son and practices in Pembroke Pines, FL, in a private group practice with five other ODs. She has been practicing full-scope optometry there for four years and recently returned to work full time.
Arian Fartash, OD, has a daughter who just turned 12 months old. Though she has not returned to traditional patient care since giving birth, she runs her online business Glam Optometry social media management and her pediatric sunglasses line Glam Baby as well as providing fill-in work a few days a month at a local optometric clinic.
Planning to start a family
Both Dr. Olivares and Dr. Fartash agree that having a plan in advance and saving money is key to giving ODs flexibility as a new parent.
Depending on each woman’s pregnancy and birth experience, they may require more time out of work than expected. Both Dr. Fartash and Dr. Olivares had to have emergency cesarean sections, requiring them to take off work earlier than expected.
For most ODs, there is no paid maternity leave policy that offers full or partial salary benefits when out of the office as a new mother. Independent contractors or 1099 workers aren’t eligible for employee benefits through the workplace, including short-term disability or paid time off for maternity leave.
Taking time off for maternity leave requires saving and budgeting appropriately. Dr. Fartash recommends saving three to six months of salary, if possible.
Salaried optometrists or W2 employees frequently do not have a maternity leave policy Short-term disability insurance policies are available to purchase; however, doing so requires careful planning. Some offices may provide a short-term disability buy-in option through the workplace, but if not, ODs can purchase their own plans.
Short-term disability plans can vary, so reading the fine print is important. Dr. Olivares purchased short-term disability insurance independently through Aflac, and her plan stated that she would not be eligible for benefits if she got pregnant within 10 months of purchasing the insurance. For most plans, ODs cannot wait until they are pregnant to sign up for a short-term disability plan.
1. American Optometric Association. The Future is Female. Available at: https://www.aoa.org/news/inside-optometry/the-future-is-female. Accessed 8/21/19.