How do you spend your time off? Do you neglect your to-do list in favor of rest and relaxation, or do you race around trying to get everything done? How you use your free time affects your energy level and on-the-job enthusiasm. Hospitalists who learn to make the most of their time off reduce their stress and master the elusive work-life balance, and are more likely to avoid burnout. It’s especially true of physicians who work long hours followed by multiple days of downtime.
“I tell hospitalists … that they have to know what a sense of ‘work-life balance’ means to them,” says Iris Grimm, creator of the Balanced Physician program and founder of Marietta, Ga.-based Master Performance Inc. (www.balanced physician.com). Understanding what you need to lead a healthy, balanced life is crucial to your happiness and well-being on and off the job.
Hospitalists who work long shifts also face extended stretches of time off that are vital to recharging one’s batteries. “One of the challenges they have is to find a routine,” Grimm says. “As human beings, we prefer to have a daily routine, which is a benefit from a health standpoint. These people have different sleep patterns when they’re off, which can throw off their bodies, which in turn has an effect on health and well-being.”
—Chad Whelan, MD, FHM, assistant professor of medicine, University of Chicago
Plan to Cope
The allure of regular, extended time off—namely, the seven-day-on, seven-day-off schedule model—can factor heavily into a physician’s decision to choose an HM career. A full week off is ideal for some, but not so ideal for others.
Many think the seven-on, seven-off schedule increases the likelihood of physician burnout. Others think the exact opposite. No matter what, the “intense shift” model is not going away anytime soon, says Chad Whelan, MD, FHM, associate professor of medicine and director of the division of hospital medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
The first step in maximizing your personal time is to accept your schedule. “Whatever schedule you’re working, you’re going to be working when others are not,” Dr. Whelan says. “You have to recognize that, and you have to own it.”
Once you accept the fact that you’ll miss out on some activities—from dinner parties to your child’s Little League baseball games—that fall on your workdays, you can move on to a key component of maximizing your days off: the art of planning.
Planning your days off helps ensure that you don’t end up wasting them. “Your plan could include exercise, visiting with friends, and keeping up with CME,” Grimm says. Dr. Whelan agrees: “You have to do some active planning to schedule things that need to get done.” He knows from personal experience that “the mundane details are easy to drop; instead of grocery shopping, you end up ordering in. I find that if I schedule these things—even at a funky time like late at night—I’ll get them done.”
Planning works both ways. “Part of balance is using time in your off days to prepare for when you’ll be working,” Grimm says. For example, make sure you have food in your refrigerator so that you can have a healthy breakfast and occasionally prepare dinners in advance that you can quickly heat up after your shift.
Focusing your organizational skills and planning on personal “to-dos” will lighten the load of a long workday. “Automate as much as possible—such as paying bills,” Grimm advises, “and delegate what you can. The less you have to keep track of, the less stress you’ll feel and the more energy you’ll find to do what you’re paid to do.”