Overlooked Cause of Physician Burnout - Creating the Physician Schedule

If you are a lead physician in your practice or a practice administrator, you know that Physician Burnout is a hot topic in 2018. Recent Studies from Medscape and Reuters continue to show that the problem is not showing any signs of slowing down.

According to “The Happy MD” blog posted by Dike Drummond, MD, “Numerous global studies involving nearly every medical and surgical specialty indicate that approximately 1 in 3 doctors is experiencing physician burnout at any given time, with some studies showing burnout prevalence as high as 69%”.

One of the things that can be done to prevent physician burnout is work-life balance and healthy boundaries between work and non-work life areas. In many small and medium-sized practices, it is still very common to have one of the physicians create, maintain, and publish the physician on-call and work schedule. This is most often created at home, nights, and weekends, without any tools, such as automated on-call scheduling software. We estimate that the physician scheduling process will take approximately 30-50 hours per year creating, making changes to, and communicating for a group of 10-15 physicians.

While many of these physician schedulers are more senior members of the practice, and some even claim to like doing it, the large majority are not doing it for fun or the challenge. They are doing it because either it won’t get done on time, if they don’t do it, it won’t be done fairly, or it won’t be accurate. All three of these are important to the partners in the practice.

Spending 30-50 hours of time, that you are not compensated for, on nights and weekends does not promote a healthy work-life balance and certainly violates the precious boundaries between work and home. I am advocating that physician scheduling software tools are provided to make the job easier, less time consuming, and more self-serve for the physicians who do not have to create or maintain the schedule.

Creating the physician work and on-call schedule is often overlooked and undervalued because the workload is burdened to one person (or a small group) and does not affect everyone as much as it does the physician scheduler. Sometimes when a doctor wants to pass the baton to someone else there is peer pressure from other doctors to “just suck it up” and “do it by hand like I used to have to do”. And we also hear that the partners are unwilling to change or could not possibly learn one-more “new thing” making the process more self-serve difficult. FYI, I think all of that is BS. I think the real reason is that some people are selfish and don’t care as much about others as they should. If it’s not my problem, who cares about Scheduling Physicians, right. WRONG.

Physician burnout is real. The causes can be subtle and can take years to add-up. Just be sure if you are an Administrator or physician leader that you are not part of the problem, but rather the solution.

Creating a healthy work-life balance does not include spending 30-50 hours of your nights and weekends creating schedules for your partners. Give doctors the time and tools necessary to do their job as a “scheduler” and encourage other doctors to use modern tools for things like vacation requests. This is a small step in reducing the possibility that scheduling doctors are part of the burnout problem. It doesn’t have to be.


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