How much time do you take off a year?

As a whole, Americans don’t have much freedom in vacation time.  When I first considered working in the tech and finance industry, many starting offers I received granted about 2 weeks of paid time off (PTO) a year.  Some of the smaller startups had one to two weeks of PTO with some flexibility to take more time without pay.  I don’t think that many of their employees ever invoked that privilege unless they had some emergency crop up. Most of these jobs also catered to younger people who didn’t have families either.  They were happy working over eighty hours a week with potential bonuses that more than doubled their initial salary.

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Guess what? The guys running the large corporations know what they’re doing. They can afford to pay you $70k a year, have you average out 60+ hours a week with two weeks of PTO and easily afford to pay you $150k at the end of the year.  Who knows how much you earned the corporation.  They don’t even have to give their employees overtime pay since everyone is salaried.  You just work more for a bonus that you will probably get at the end of the year but at the discretion of your boss. In my book that isn’t a smart situation to be in.

Sometimes clinic seems like an assembly line. One day that will really be true…

Doctors in medical training don’t get bonuses for extra work. We’re not in it for the money…at least that shouldn’t be the primary reason to become a physician.  It’s part of the vetting process. I didn’t really consider maximizing my resident salary either and neither did most of my friends.  I don’t really think that any of my close colleagues went into medicine for the money.  If they did, they probably left after internship or even before.  One could EVEN make a case that the more that one actively cared about money during their medical training, the less accomplished they were. (Cringe. This will be a topic for future discussion).

We spent a lot of time in the hospital work and learning.  Regardless of whatever regulations we had in training, I definitely spent over eighty hours a week in the hospital for at least a three month period.  This doesn’t even include the amount of time I spent outside of the hospital studying or preparing presentations.  That was probably another five to ten hours a week.  The other months probably averaged out to 60 hours a week plus study time.  No bonuses there.  We put in the extra time so that we actually will be good doctors in the future.

But we actually got at least 3 weeks of vacation each year (I did not actually use all of my allotted vacation times in most years however, but that is the topic for another discussion). That’s already more than the average person receives in other industries.

In practice, the amount of PTO/vacation that doctors receive subsequently varies from two weeks to even several months! Some medical specialties that involve shift work may not offer any PTO, but can involve significant amounts of time off of work.  Several of my friends in Emergency Medicine only work 12 shifts a month, which is considered a “full-time” arrangement. I know others who only work 8 shifts a month! I have another friend who is a Radiologist who gets three months of vacation time a year (and still earns a sizable salary)!

Not bad. I usually take about a month (or less) off a year, which is actually considered on the low end. Life still isn’t bad. When you take into account what your hobbies are, what your family obligations are, how much time your kids get off from school, the amount of travel time actually diminishes.  Most people with school-aged kids have activities after school and on the weekends (unless you choose to home-school your kids, and that is another topic for future discussion!)

And ultimately I have decided that while vacation time is great, having a relaxed weekly routine is even better. Space out the week so that you work four full days a week, and you might not need as much vacation.

You might also like: Why doctors need a four day work week.

I’ve considering trying to rearrange my schedule to ease up the week such that my income doesn’t take a significant hit.  In some situations that is not possible, but if you can swing the change your life will improve.

How many weeks do you take off from work annually?

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(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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One thought on “How much time do you take off a year?

  1. I’ve always found it interesting that truck drivers and pilots have maximum work hours but physician do not. I guess it is a different animal comparing the continued vigilance of flying vs rounding and talking to patients although mistakes in both can be deadly. It is hard to quantify when one doc is over worked and another isn’t. I figure that would apply to pilots too.
    Most docs are pretty driven people. We wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t. I try to keep reminding myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint. I hope to practice 20 or more years and then take my talents to other parts of the less developed world. It would be interesting to compare rates of burnout and weeks of vacation among various physicians.

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