When it comes to downtime, healthcare practitioners typically worry more about their patients than themselves. Suggesting a patient take some time to recover and recharge may be standard; but healthcare workers rarely take their own advice.
A recent survey showed 6% of physicians take less than 1 week of vacation every year: 27% take only 1 to 2 weeks. For some doctors, family vacations are scheduled during conferences so they can work or learn while their families enjoy a trip.
For nurses and many others who work in healthcare, the challenges of staffing issues can make taking time away from work so weighty they opt to forego their own needs for the needs of others. Some healthcare facilities require nursing staff to request vacation time off at the beginning of the year, forcing nurses to schedule time off when they haven’t had an opportunity to make plans or travel arrangements. Other facilities allow nurses to schedule closer to the travel/vacation date, but short-staffing can make planning difficult at best.
The World Health Organization recently defined burnout syndrome as an ’occupational phenomenon.’ In a recent study, 51% of physicians experience symptoms of job burnout. The study found 37% of nurses and 66 to 78% of non-surgical and surgical residents report burnout. Burnout may be inevitable in healthcare: the average physician works a 51-hour workweek: 25% work more than 60 hours per week.
Medicine is 24/7/365, and some argue there’s no good time to get away. But not getting away isn’t the solution. Taking time away from the pressure of work can be critical in reducing stress and burnout. And while most healthcare professionals know they’ve earned it and they need it, planning to take time away can be as stressful as not taking it at all.
Taking Time to Self-Heal
Healthcare practitioners can reduce the stress of vacation planning and actually take and enjoy time off with family and friends. A bit of organization and commitment are needed, but making plans, setting boundaries and following through are well worth the effort.
Begin with a concrete plan. Whether you schedule your August vacation in the dead of winter or have a shorter lead-time, decide where (if anywhere) you’re going and book it. If you can afford it, make tickets or reservations non-refundable; that way the cost of not going will be dear. Travel agencies can help; tell them what you dream about and let them do the work.
Brag About It
That little twinge of jealousy that makes you envy the colleague who’s off to destinations unknown is a strong motivator. The more you talk about your plans, the less likely you’ll bail on them in the 11th hour. Imagine having to admit that you skipped your second honeymoon in Paris to attend a staff meeting. It’s more than just boasting (although that is fun). Letting people know you won’t be available and that you’re looking forward to a break puts them on notice as well. If they need something urgently, ask now or wait until later.
Stretch it a bit
Taking two weeks off? Make it 12 days. The day before and the day back from vacation should be patient-free, stress-free, bother me-free. Get paperwork done and off your desk before you leave. Send emails notifying everyone and their sister you’ll be off on a well-deserved rest and hope not to be disturbed for anything less than a Nobel notification. When you return, plan on the same. Take a day to catch up on emails, news (even gossip) before you get back to the madness. Transition days make it easier to leave and return; you’ll be more likely to take time again next year (and the next).
Coming back restored
There’s no point taking a vacation if you’re going to work the entire time. Set boundaries for yourself and others to maximize the time to de-stress and rejuvenate.
Disconnect – really
If you can’t (or won’t) go somewhere where Wi-Fi isn’t a thing, you’ll need to turn off your own triggers. Don’t check your work email; don’t call in to see what’s going on; don’t surf the web for something you may have missed. It will all still be there when you return. Keep telling yourself, “This is my time.” Your smartphone should be for making reservations and taking vacation pix only!
Ask for Interference
If you absolutely must stay connected to some extent, use a gatekeeper. This is a trusted colleague who knows when it’s really an emergency and when it isn’t. Ask others to channel inquiries through them and have them only pass on what is truly critical. Don’t know if you can find someone to run interference for you? Promise to return the favor when they’re unwinding – it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
If you’ve gotten away, take the time to enjoy it. Whether you’re in an exotic locale, a family-friendly resort, or sleeping late on stay-cation, take the time to de-stress and enjoy. Most of us only get 2 weeks a year, so make as many memories as you can, and make every minute count – but no pressure!