Vacations have been shown to reduce burnout, but sometimes it can feel hard to take time off. Blocking vacation time at the start of the year and getting coverage in place early may help.
Doctors are not good at taking vacations. A recent study in JAMA Network Open found that among 3,000 physician-respondents, about 60% had taken fewer than 15 vacation days in the last year, and 20% took five days or less. And while on vacation, 70% worked at least 30 minutes per day. That was partially because only 49% of doctors reported having coverage for their electronic medical record (EMR) work while on vacation.
Importantly, the researchers found that if physicians had full EMR coverage while on vacation, they had a lower rate of burnout. Based on my own conversations with colleagues, I’m not surprised about these results. We need to be proactive to manage our vacation.
When you’re on vacation, really be on vacation. I think this is hard for many of us. Not wanting to inconvenience colleagues was cited in the study as a common reason why people worked on vacation. But just ask. It’s important to help each other out. We may also think that only we can take care of our patients. In reality, though, others can take care of them. We can step away for a week or two and they will be ok.
How to take vacations:
1. Schedule vacation at the start of the year.
Block the time off now so you don’t feel guilty later asking for coverage or for patients to reschedule.
2. If necessary, remind your supervisor/trainees/colleagues why vacations are important.
You can refer them to this JAMA Open article stating that vacation helps reduce burnout.
3. If you have guaranteed vacation days, make sure you take them.
Don’t leave them on the table. Yes, you might lose a small amount of income, but in the end, it’s probably worth it to take a break.
4. If there’s no system in place to get coverage:
If your practice group doesn’t have a system for vacation coverage, ask to start one. If your whole group won’t agree to this, ask a couple colleagues if you might cover for each other when away. In the long-term, practice groups need to have a system for vacation (and sick and parental leave) coverage.
This is not just a physician issue. Plenty of professionals work while on vacation from all different kinds of jobs. Here are a few tips: 1. Don’t bring your computer. 2. Take your work email off your phone while on vacation. 3. Make sure people know (through the EMR, email out of office messages, etc.) who is covering for you, so you feel ok to unplug.
In my own experience, vacations have helped me to recover from burnout. Giving full attention to family, friends, AND yourself can rejuvenate and re-energize, enabling you to give be your best self at work. We will care for patients for many years. Time away to not be physicians can sustain us for the hard work that we do.
This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.