Prevent Physician Burnout by Handling Vacation Requests Fairly

We all know vacations are crucial to prevent Physician burn-out and to keep them happy and at their best for their families, patients, and colleagues. For a true “getaway”, many advocate Physicians take at least a two-week break, not only from on-call duties but everything else. And no cheating: no CME, no checking emails, taking a work call, or overloading with patients before or immediately after getting back!

How can Schedulers accommodate and facilitate this?

Use the Provider Request area in your Physician on-call scheduling software to collect, process, and help limit how many Providers can be gone on a day. This empowers Physicians to make requests early and accurately, whenever they want to do so, from wherever they are.

The following tips assume that your group already has Vacation Policies in place.

Especially, make sure that you have clearly defined rules regarding when people can take time off, how long in advance they need to request a vacation, and how many can be gone at once so that Schedulers can prepare properly.

    1. Allow Assignment Swaps. By trading assignments, Providers can control where their “no work” weeks are to provide time for a vacation. This allows Physicians to plan a clear “No Call” the day before leaving and also upon their first day back. This saves you the headache of finding replacement coverage!
    2. Let the Physicians make their own vacation requests via software. Instead of using email, voicemail, or slips of paper that may be lost or miss interpreted, Providers can make requests directly via the Call Scheduler APP on their phone, during their family vacation discussion. They take responsibility for choosing time off, can be assured the request has been delivered, and the Provider Request archives will track how it was processed. Fewer surprises for everyone! Your Physician can buy those tickets to commit to that time off.
    3. Allow Physicians to retract/edit any pending vacations. Help ensure they get a full two weeks in a stretch at least every other year by letting them amend pending requests, especially if they made a mistake in the dates. If the vacation is a “must-have or I will cry”, submit a Vacation priority 1. Using this setting will require a review of your Vacation Policies so everyone understands the intent when it is used with your on-call software.
    4. Use the Provider Request limits. Encourage Providers to request early, while you get out of being the “Bad Guy” having to deny requests to prevent too many people “off” on the same dates. This immediate feedback also allows the Provider to pick alternative dates right away if his initial request is denied.
    5. Respect Emergency Absences. Sometimes “shit” happens, but it should not be a regular occurrence only from Dr. Difficult. Hopefully, that Juicy Vacation ticket can be swapped as easily as swapping a replacement to cover the new unexpected absence.

Here are some common Vacation Scheduling strategies used across the nation. Is your Vacation Policy among them?

    1. Reverse Vacation Scheduling. The on-call Schedule is turned out well ahead of time with the Holiday schedule worked in. Providers take vacations whenever they are not already scheduled, or swap assignments among themselves as needed to clear their dates.
    2. First Come-First Served. This works best combined with a deadline. After the “cut-off” date, the Providers find their own replacements.
    3. By Seniority. Those who have worked in the Group longest have first dibs. Maybe even pre-determined rotating vacation dates.
    4. Group-Sharing on-call Coverage. Develop a relationship with other Groups and work out a template of coverage between you. When your group is off, vacations can be more freely given. Or draw from your Locum Pool for coverage.
    5. Laissez-faire: “Let them do as they will.” Not surprisingly, issues arise with “he said, she said” conversations, especially if provider requests and swaps are not documented and implemented right away. Communication and coordination is a must!
    6. Lottery. I haven’t come across this low-tech solution in a while, but it still out there. Providers put their names in a “hat” and they get to choose vacations in the order their names are drawn.

Key Takeaway:

Physician burnout is real; unmet vacation expectations only intensify this. Collect and process all vacation information in a central on-location so on-call Physicians can reconnect with family and friends on vacation, returning refresh and ready to provide top-notch patient care again.


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