Recently I had a conversation with a primary care physician who started her private practice a couple of years ago. She was telling me about the long nights in the office, the worries about financial responsibilities, and the challenges she experienced with a couple of staff members. She asked me how she could keep her sanity and stay away from burnout. My advice to her was simple – since you call the shots, play by new rules.
Whether you’re running your practice, transition into a new position, or are employed by a hospital / medical group already, you have a choice about how you work. You can make your self-care a priority and be more productive and effective, or you can continue to believe that a seventy-hour work week and a frenetic pace will bring you more success, recognition, and better outcomes.
There are many goals that drive a healthcare organization: the primary goal of any business, any healthcare organization is to make money. Without money, excellent patient care isn’t feasible. That’s just a basic fact.
In order to provide good outcomes and keep physicians employed, the organization needs to increase its bottom line or at least break even on a consistent basis. That’s why most healthcare groups get worried when I talk about the importance of work/life balance or physicians request more support around balance. They make the mistake of believing that supporting self-care strategies for physicians will lead to selfishness, less productivity and reduced work hours. This may be true for some people, but experience has shown me that the best and most dedicated physicians always end up providing better patient care and producing better outcomes.
It is a myth to believe that working long hours at a hectic pace makes you productive and a more caring physician. By now most of us recognize that overwork and stress cause everything from decreased performance and irritability all the way to increased medical errors. Taking better care of you makes good patient sense.
Below I am sharing with you a couple of ideas to get you started. But, of course, there are no limits. Incorporate some of the suggestions for the next month and see what happens. You’ll find that you not only are more attentive to your patients, but you will also create more joy and time for your life.
1. I schedule 10 minutes of silence in my day where I just sit quietly and focus on my breathing.
2. I take a work/lunch break every day and do something unrelated to work. For example, I take a walk around the office, practice my 10 minutes of silence or listen to a relaxation tape.
3. I train myself to look consistently for ways to delegate tasks to empower others while I do what I know best.
4. I stop taking on more than I can handle. When asked to take on a new responsibility, I give myself time to check with myself whether I can fulfill this assignment without suffering or sacrificing my self-care.
5. I know my top five priorities, and I make sure I honor them consistently.
6. I do my best to allot sufficient time for charting in my work schedule so that I don’t take “paperwork” home. (Bonus: I also ensure I feel confident and proficient to use the EMR.)
7. I do whatever it takes to create a healthy and clutter-free work environment.
8. I hire and work with only highly competent and talented people with whom I get along.
9. I always look for ways to improve my workflow and efficiency.
10. I consistently acknowledge myself and my team for work well done.
Think of these suggestions as a major component of excellent patient care, and customize them to fit your need. Once you have your self-care list, print it out and look at it daily. Putting it into practice may be challenging at first since these suggestions do require a little time, which most of us think we don’t have. To ensure success, you may want to ask a colleague to join you in this change. I can assure you, once you practice them, you’ll be more effective at work and more relaxed at home.