The Challenges of Taking Time Off as a Physician: How to Overcome Common Obstacles

It’s common for physicians to experience burnout, and one of the reasons for that may be because physicians often find it difficult to take time off.

For physicians with high-pressure careers, downtime is crucial. So why is it that so many medical professionals let so many vacation days go to waste? Why is it that they find it so difficult to schedule time away from the job?

Here’s a look at some of the challenges of taking time off that physicians face, as well as ways to overcome those obstacles.

You Dread Returning to a Backlog of Work

Many physicians dread the thought of taking days off because they dread even more the thought of having to return to a backlog of work to do. Yes, the first week back to work after a vacation is often met with an insurmountable amount of work to catch up on, but there are ways around that.

One way is to prepare well in advance of your scheduled vacation. If the crux of your workload revolves around clinical care and treating patients, putting measures in place before you take off can lessen the backlog of work you’ll have when you return.

If you are employed by a hospital or large group, other physicians should be able to provide adequate coverage while you’re away. If you run a solo medical practice, consider closing the practice on the days that you plan to take off.

Keep in mind that “time off” doesn’t have to be a two week vacation or even one full week away. Some physicians find it easier and more beneficial to take mini vacations, such as 3-4 days at a stretch or Fridays off to enjoy long weekends.

You Want to Be Available for Your Patients at all Times

Physicians are dedicated to their patients, but it’s unrealistic, not to mention unhealthy, to make yourself available to patients 24/7.

When you own your own practice or are a partner in a group practice, the practice isn’t just your job — it’s your business. And most business owners find it challenging to take days off and put their business out of their mind, if even for a day.

The good news is that physicians can provide 24 hour assistance to patients simply by setting up 24/7 call coverage.

You can also inform patients ahead of time, such as with an email through your patient portal, that you’ll be unavailable on specific days. That way, they can request refills or check in with you for test results while you are still available.

You Don’t Have Sufficient Coverage

It can seem impossible to take days off when you don’t have sufficient coverage to back you up, but there are ways around this issue as well.

If you’re a partner in a practice, ask the other partners to cover some of your duties while you’re away, then return the favor and do the same for them when they’re off.

Physicians looking to take an extended period of time off may want to consider hiring a locum tenens physician to fill in on a temporary basis. A locum tenens staffing agency can easily help you find coverage for a short amount of time.

You Want to Prove That You’re Dedicated to the Job

Employed physicians, especially those that are looking to climb the ranks and move up within their organization, often think that not taking days off is a way to prove their dedication to their employer.

The fact is, if you get PTO you should take it. Your employer doesn’t give you paid days off expecting you to waste them. In fact, most encourage their employees to take it.

Time off helps you to relax, de-stress, and improve both your mental and physical health. You’re actually likely to perform your duties better and be more focused when you return to work after having a few days away from work.

Check out this article to learn more about PTO and how much paid time off most physicians get.

You’re “Too Busy”

No matter how important your job responsibilities may be, being “too busy” is not an excuse to not take a few days off. As we discussed above, time off is beneficial to both the mind and body, so you have to prioritize it as you would any other important part of the job.

Treat downtime as a top priority, just as you would any important medical conference, CME program, or licensing exam. If need be, schedule it far in advance so that you have ample weeks to prepare for it and put the appropriate plans in place.

In Conclusion

No one expects you to do your job 24 hours a day, not your patients, not your partners, and not your employer.

So no matter how busy you are, how much you want yourself available to patients, or how much you want to prove your dedication to the job, do yourself a favor and make some time for some well-deserved time off.

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