Michael Radzienda, MD, FHM, once worked in a hospitalist program in which physicians were scheduled 30 days straight on clinical duty and 30 days off clinical duty. Although it sounds harsh by today’s standards, that job was so satisfying, he says, the schedule never felt like a burden. Conversely, he’s seen hospitalists work five days on and five days off, and the job was treacherous.
His point: Work schedules are just one influential piece of the job satisfaction pie.
“Satisfaction has more to do with work relationships and opportunities for growth,” says Dr. Radzienda, chief of hospital medicine and director of hospital medicine service at Medical College of Wisconsin/Froedtert Memorial Lutheran General Hospital in Milwaukee.
Shift-based staffing has become the norm, as more than 70% of hospitalist groups use a shift-based staffing model, according to the State of Hospital Medicine: 2010 Report Based on 2009 Data.1 That figure is up 40% from SHM’s 2005-2006 survey. Conversely, the number of HM groups employing call-based and hybrid (some shift, some call) coverage is declining—2.8% of groups employ call-based schedules, and 26.9% use a hybrid schedule. Those figures have dropped significantly from the 2005-2006 report, from 25% and 35%, respectively.
If you are going to make HM a career, you’ll need time to be with your family and pursue other interests, Dr. Radzienda says. As HM groups turn to more shift-based models, in which hospitalists work a set number of predetermined shifts and have no call responsibility, the challenge is setting a schedule that balances productivity and quality time off.
Fixed = Inflexible
The most popular way to schedule is through blocks of five days on/five days off (5/5) or seven days on/seven days off (7/7), in which hospitalists work 12 or 14 hours at a time, says Troy Ahlstrom, MD, FHM, a member of SHM’s Practice Analysis Committee and CFO of Hospitalists of Northern Michigan, a hospitalist-owned and -managed group based in Traverse City, Mich. Many HM groups employ this model because it’s easy to schedule and is attractive to residents who want a fixed schedule. But from a career satisfaction standpoint, the 5/5 and 7/7 schedule models present their own issues.
Fairness is the first potential pitfall. If all of the physicians in a group work the same schedule, they all have to log the same number of shifts and receive the same compensation. This leaves little to no wiggle room for hospitalists who want to make more money by picking up more shifts or those who want to work fewer shifts, Dr. Ahlstrom says. “People have different income goals,” he adds.
Second, physicians have to see the same number of patients throughout the day. This doesn’t take into consideration the reality that some hospitalists naturally work faster than others, thereby forcing the slower-paced doctors to keep up with an imposed patient load. “Invariably, no matter what you do, people are different,” Dr. Ahlstrom says.
Another consideration is that when physicians are working 12 to 14 hours a day, essentially they have no time for activities other than work and sleep, which doesn’t match the realities of life. Inevitably, things in personal lives crop up, which leads to swapping shifts that the group scheduler doesn’t know about or overloading the scheduler with shift-change requests, Dr. Ahlstrom explains.