But if your group is ready to make a meaningful change away from a rigid seven-on/seven-off schedule, the first step could be to vary the number of days off. No longer would all in the group switch on the same day; only one doctor would switch at a time (unless there are more than seven day shifts), and that could occur on any day of the week.
To illustrate, let’s say you’re in a group with four day shifts. For this week, Dr. Plant might start Monday after four days off, Dr. Bonham has had 11 days off and starts Tuesday, Dr. Page starts Friday after nine days off, and Dr. Jones starts Saturday after six days off. Each will work seven consecutive day shifts, and the number of off days will vary depending on their own wishes and the needs of the group. This is much more complicated to schedule, but varying the switch day and number of days off between weeks can be good for work-life balance.
Some will quickly identify difficulties, such as how to get the kids’ nanny to match a varying work schedule like this. I know many hospitalists who have done this successfully and are glad they did, but I’m sure there are also many for whom changing to a schedule like this might require moving from their current terrific childcare arrangements to a new one, something that they (justifiably) are unwilling to do.
And if your group successfully moves to a seven-on/X-off schedule (i.e., varied number of days off), you could next think about varying the number of consecutive days worked. Maybe it could range from no fewer than five or six (to preserve reasonable continuity) to as many as 10 or 11 as long as you have the stamina.
I don’t have research proving this would be a better schedule. But my own career, and the experiences of a number of others I’ve spoken with, is enough to convince me it’s worth considering. TH
Dr. Nelson has been a practicing hospitalist since 1988. He is co-founder and past president of SHM, and principal in Nelson Flores Hospital Medicine Consultants. He is co-director for SHM’s “Best Practices in Managing a Hospital Medicine Program” course. Write to him at [email protected].