Medical Schools Get Creative With Child Care Benefits
Published in the December 2011 AAMC Reporter
By Whitney L.J Howell
As a surgeon, Robert Feezor, M.D., never expected he would eat earthworms at work. But as a father, he was thrilled to have the chance.
“It was Father’s Day, and they gave the dads earthworm ice cream,” said Feezor, assistant professor of vascular surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine. “Basically, it was gummy worms in brownies, so it looked like earthworms in dirt. My son loved giving it to me.”
The treat came courtesy of Baby Gator, the medical center’s on-site day care facility where Feezor sends his three children—ages 5, 3, and 2—daily for a “stimulating educational child care experience.”
Accessible child care is one of the things that can add to the workplace attractiveness of an academic medical center. Baby Gator opened its on-site facility two years ago, joining other academic medical centers that have offered the same benefit—some for as long as 50 years. Many, including Yale and Stanford universities, have housed child care near hospitals and clinics for decades.
According to Sarah Bunton, Ph.D., AAMC research director of organization and management studies, longer hours of operation, close proximity to the hospital or clinic, and the possibility to see a child during the day make on-site day care a priority for faculty—both male and female.
“A dramatic change in the desire for on-site day care has been the increased number of fathers who want to be more involved with arranging care for their kids,” she said. “Through anecdotal reports from faculty affairs administrators and focus groups with select groups of faculty, more male faculty are also asking about and lobbying for this benefit.”
Baby Gator Director Pamela Pallas, Ph.D., said it was the medical school’s dean who first requested a location closer to the hospital.
“The dean called to tell me that top-notch residents were turning him down because he couldn’t guarantee he could offer appropriate child care,” Pallas said. “He was shocked child care was a deal breaker, but he wanted to know how we could get a Baby Gator close to the health sciences center.”
Within six months of opening, Pallas said, the center was at full capacity with112 children. There is now a waiting list 200 children long.
On-site child care is so popular, and the need for quality services so great, that parents scramble to put their children on waiting lists before birth. Some even make the attempt before conception. Jane Grady, Ph.D., associate vice president for human resources at Rush University Medical Center, once had a faculty member contact her upon getting engaged to ask if it was too early to put a yet-to-be-conceived child on the waiting list.
While the question amused Grady, who served as the first director of Rush’s Laurance Armour Day School, she was not surprised. Day care facilities at academic medical centers are more likely than other child care centers to have an educationally focused curriculum, making them a good choice for parents who already value extensive academic training, she said. Facilities on medical center campuses are also more likely to have highly educated staff.
“All our teachers have master’s degrees in early childhood education,” she said. “They are here to help the kids learn and have fun. We want to make sure they are well prepared for school at the same time we provide the excellent care the parents are looking for.”
During the 2008 presidential election, Feezor’s children learned about the various candidates and flags from different countries. When they learned about gardening, his 3-year-old enjoyed showing off the watermelon every time Feezor picked him up on the playground.
From the faculty perspective, paying for medical center-connected on-site day care can be easier than paying a center in the community, Grady said. Faculty can often choose from payroll deduction, using their health savings accounts, or monthly check.
Although these centers are coveted and provide an appreciated benefit to faculty, starting a day care facility is not always simple, said Phillips Kerr, director of compensations and benefits for the University of Massachusetts Medical Center-Worchester, which opened its facility in August 2010. The biggest stumbling block is finding an adequately sized space, as well as the funds to complete renovations, hire staff, and purchase necessary resources. In fact, he said, the best option could be outsourcing the day care’s administration.
“Fortunately, the university owned the space we used for the school,” Kerr said. “But rather than build everything from the ground up, the university decided to partner with an existing company to run the school. It’s been a positive experience.”
To read the article at its original location: https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/reporter/december2011/268878/childcare.html
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