In recent years, I have noticed more and more foreign last names in the Groups we serve. I have also become aware of increased difficulty when it comes to scheduling a break long enough so physicians have the opportunity to see friends and relatives overseas since a single week is generally not enough for such a trip. This new “wrinkle” is in addition to the already dissonant needs of Generation X vs the Baby Boomers.
The reality is that for many Groups, vacations of more than a week or so are hard to come by; extended vacations are simply too disruptive. Some Groups simply find themselves too short-staffed to grant the time, even when colleagues are willing to pitch in to help each other. Burn out can be a real factor for those “covering” and for those “catching up” after they return from their trip.
It may seem early to be thinking about days off when then February as barely started and snow is still on the ground. However, starting vacation planning early will keep time on your side, help physicians coordinate tickets and family plans, and prevent ugly surprises. A well documented and executed vacation process is essential to keep you out of the hot seat and will help promote harmony within the Group.
To avoid too many empty seats at once, the Scheduler must be prepared to be the bad guy if multiple requests for the same week off would put the practice in a bind. This is nothing new. The Scheduler needs to be able to make difficult decisions that are appropriate for the practice, and develop a vacation request system that’s fair, even if some of those requests are for a three-week vacation.
Many medical groups are already struggling with how to survive on a skeleton crew during holidays and peak vacation seasons without having to factor in longer breaks for overseas travel. What are some strategies Groups use to cover the extended vacations needed for physicians to see the folks back home when “home” may be overseas?
When it comes to solving the “vacation conundrum”, size helps. Through their sheer size, larger groups often have built-in vacation coverage. But while size brings flexibility, it also brings increased complexity. Different cultures bring different expectations, as do various religious traditions and generational needs (ages) of the physicians being scheduled. Groups with physicians of foreign descent, with family in India or Japan (for example), will have different needs than a Group whose physicians all have State-side or local relatives.
This idea works well if the physician on-call schedule is turned out six to twelve months at a time. With a larger group, it’s easier to have people do extra shifts since the call is more spread out in general. In small practices, giving a Provider two weeks of vacation would disrupt the whole schedule, and there would need to be several physicians involved to make it work.
It all begins with a shared Policy and expectations at the Group level rather than only meeting an individual Physician’s needs as they come up. The Group needs to communicate and document these expectations clearly so vacation planning can be implemented.
As recruiters work to find an edge to differentiate their Group, vacation time is becoming an important perk that younger physicians, who are known for their interest in lifestyle, are seeking. As more foreign physicians are hired, their overseas family needs will influence their decision about which Group they will join. Don’t let your Group be left out of consideration.
Key Takeaway: The No. 1 reason for Group disappointment, in general, is a failure to communicate. Vacation expectations only intensify this. The most important strategy for practicing harmony regarding vacations is to address these issues early, before they become too big, and promote the shared Group expectations.