Top five methods for doctors to reclaim their time

As with most professionals, doctors exchange their time for money.  Sure, there are clever side gigs, real estate investments, and other means for us to build our revenue stream but the fundamentally our profession compensates us for our time.  Fortunately our time commands a relatively good wage, but using our trade knowledge still requires energy.  Sometimes our commitment to work is satisfying. Other times it becomes more of a drain.  When our expectations of work do not reflect the reality of the workplace, we can experience burnout.

The best way to prevent burnout is not to get into a work situation that burns you out. Unfortunately we don’t always have that luxury.  The second best solution is to maximize your time outside of work. Doing so may be a bridge to a more permanent solution, or it may even be a way to buy you time until you reach financial independence.  How do you slow down the burn?  These are five strategies for doctors to reclaim their time.

Enter a specialty that is structured around shifts

The rest of the world works on shift work. Each shift is defined by a set amount of time you spend at work. You can structure your life around how many shifts you desire to work, and clock out when you’re not there.  The advantage is that you won’t likely to be called outside of your work hours, and you can have more control over your lifestyle.  Tweak the schedules so that the pain of work never becomes intolerable.  Beautiful.

If you are still in medical school and deciding on a specialty, there is still hope.  Specialties such as emergency medicine, hospitalist (internal medicine), intensivist (many routes via internal medicine), and radiology (some employment structures) are some of the specialties that have a shift work structure.  This shouldn’t be the only reason why you choose your career path, but consider the lifestyle wisely.

Delegate your tasks at work

Doctor roles have transitioned over the years with the concept of physician extenders, scribes, and  midlevels.  Whether we agree with the changes, they are here to stay.  If you work for a hospital that has its act together financially (let’s see if any corporate folks are reading this), it should provide you with plenty of midlevel help to make you more efficient.  When implemented properly, this can get you out of the office faster and bring in more money for the organization and its doctors.  The fewer phone calls and prescription refills the doctor has to triage, the sooner the doctor can reclaim her life back.

Negotiate more time away from stressors

I find direct patient care to be most rewarding aspect as a doctor, but the associated tasks imposed by health insurance is a complete nightmare. Patient satisfaction surveys, meaningful use, and an inordinate amount of charting tests our ability to tolerate pain. Some doctors, after a certain number of years in clinical practice, opt to deal more with administrative work. I’m not sure whether that actually provides a more fulfilling career, but it gets us out of the stress of clinical practice. If that’s your cup of tea, go for it. We need more doctors in the C-suite too, if you’re going for the administration route, I urge you to go all the way to the top!

Alternatively, some doctors simply find jobs that allow them to leave work related business at work. No e-mails, phone calls, or meetings outside of the work place. Many startup tech companies push for this structure in order to reduce turnover. One day this will be more of a reality to doctors as well.

Become a full-time locum tenens doctor

Some specialties are more conducive to transient coverage.  Doctors go on vacation, they get sick, or take time off for parental leave. Their practices need coverage while the full-time doctor is out of commission.  If being a fill-in doctor suites your fancy, you can certainly carve out a career being the temp doc.

You might also like: How to become a permanent locum tenens physician 

Being a full-time locum tenens doctor often requires traveling, often for weeks at a time to cover a certain practice. Doctors with younger children may find the travel difficult, but I’ve also known doctors who despise working under a single employer so much that they opt for transient work. 

Time is money. Make it count.

Job share

Job sharing is becoming more popular over the years, as millennials are looking for more flexibility in their work schedules.  Many younger doctors in the workforce also have young children. They are faced with three choices:

  1. Work full-time, committing to a career in their profession. Have full-time and overtime nanny support as job dictates.
  2. Quit the workforce completely to care for the children.
  3. Find a way to work part-time. Ideally, there is a working spouse to generate additional income for the family to maintain its desired standard of living.

Depending on your job situation, you might have a senior partner who doesn’t wish to retire completely from clinical practice but no longer desires to work full-time either. Perhaps you have a coworker who shares the same work-life balance sentiment. In either case, you could make a case for job sharing.  It may be more of a challenge for an employer to have job sharing employees, but if that’s what it takes to retain good quality doctors then they can make it happen.

That’s it! What other strategies outside of becoming financially independent have you implemented to take back your free time?

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