Additionally, 7/7 schedules and their ilk squeeze a year’s worth of work into a compressed time frame, which can lead to intense stress and burnout, says John Nelson, MD, FACP, MHM, director of the hospitalist practice at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Wash., SHM co-founder, and practice management columnist for The Hospitalist. “Maximizing the number of days off is not the holy grail,” he says. “If you choose to shut your life down on days that you work, that is going to be toxic.”
Flexibility Equates to Fairness
Dr. Nelson has long advocated a flexible shift schedule that accommodates individual preferences by giving physicians in the group autonomy in deciding how much or how little they want to work. While the group as a whole has to get all the work done, the flexibility comes from one physician taking more shifts as another takes less.
Dr. Radzienda tries to create teams within his group by pairing hospitalists with similar scheduling preferences. For example, he might have a pair working 5/5 and another working 14/14. “Up front, it takes a lot of work, but once you template it out, it becomes a good strategy,” he says.
He also strives to build robust backup plans and jeopardy models (see “Surge Protection,” September 2010, p. 43) into the schedule for short-notice callouts, as you never know when a hospitalist will need to miss a day or two because of illness or a family emergency. “Psychologically, it helps to know that you don’t have to be a hero if you’re ill or emotionally strained,” Dr. Radzienda says.
Dr. Ahlstrom agrees that a flex-schedule strategy has a positive impact on hospitalists’ career satisfaction and longevity. He suggests hospitalists be allowed to specify how many patients they want to see and be compensated according to their workload through built-in bonuses for physicians who work more. Dr. Nelson suggests paying hospitalists per relative value unit (RVU) of work. “I think hospitalists would like it and find it liberating to be paid on production,” he says.
An added bonus to flexible work hours and patient load, according to Dr. Ahlstrom, is that pay difference “will lead to a far more collegial atmosphere, because physicians know they are getting compensated fairly for the amount of work done.”
Another advantage of a flexible schedule is hospitalists knowing they have the option of ramping up or scaling back the number of shifts they work, Dr. Ahlstrom says—for example, a physician who wants to reduce shifts in order to coach his daughter’s softball team or have Friday nights off to watch her son play high school football.
“You prevent burnout by allowing people to change their work schedule depending on what’s going on in their life,” Dr. Ahlstrom says. TH
Lisa Ryan is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.