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Block time

August 2013

Published in the August 2013 issue of Today’s Hospitalist

MANY HOSPITALISTS work block schedules (think seven on, seven off ). In my opinion, block time is by far the best reason to become a hospitalist. Yes, we work hard for seven days or nights, but we are rewarded each year with 26 weeks of vacation. That’s more time off than many physicians take over seven years of practice.

But block time has two meanings. While the first describes our work schedule, the second is a reminder that we need to block out thoughts of medicine and all the physical and emotional stressors that consume us during our seven days of service.

We hospitalists are stressed because we take care of the sickest of the sick. We often hold the hands of patients during their last journey on earth, and we are at the cutting edge between microorganism and host. Who will win out this time?

Delusions of indispensability
I had lunch with three cadaver-mates from George Washington Medical School, class of 1983, this January. One is an obstetrician; the other two are psychiatrists.

“How many death certificates have you guys filled out in 30 years,” I asked. “None,” they said. “I’ve done more than 500, possibly 1,000,” I replied.

Their jaws dropped. But I’ve also saved 50,000 others from sepsis, MI, ARDS, pneumonia, stroke, multidrug overdoses, and various gravity-induced orthopedic mishaps.

With jobs akin to air traffic control at JFK, we seriously need to decompress during our off-time. But medical hospitalists camp out at the hospital, attending committee meetings during their weeks off. I know because I am chief of medical services at our 100-bed community hospital.

We allow our down time to be consumed by hospital projects, meaningful use and various leadership roles we volunteer for. We suffer from a delusion of indispensability; we simply believe the hospital cannot run well without our constant input. Orthopedic hospitalists, by comparison, smartly know how to block out and compartmentalize their lives. Work to live, not live to work!

Letting go of the guilt
It is only in the past five years “and I’ve practiced medicine for 30 “that I have learned to carve out time for myself and my family. Here’s our solution, which has improved the quality of our family’s life immensely. My wife and I purchased an RV in 2009, and we park it full time at the Las Vegas Motorcoach Resort.

We spend between eight and 10 weeks every year there (we’re not gamblers!), a great break from the Northwestern winters. I can attend committee meetings via phone or Internet, golf 18 holes and see Elton John perform, all in one day.

Blocking out has also improved the quality of care I deliver, as I feel more energized when I return. Perhaps you’d rather purchase a winery, hike the Appalachian Trail, champion a free clinic or food bank, join a rock band, or pen a novel.

The point is to utilize your off time, guilt-free. You’ve earned it!

Edward Gacek, MD, founded a local hospitalist company, Olympic Hospitalist Physicians, in Port Angeles, Wash., 12 years ago. The group employs six hospitalists.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING with your time off? Let us know at editor@todayshospitalist.com.