When life gets incredibly busy and stressful, most of us think "I sure could use a vacation." But if you're anything like me, your next thought is probably, "I'm way too busy to take a vacation."
Last year, a nonprofit advocacy organization called Project: Time Off released a study that found only 45 percent of American workers used all their paid time off — resulting in 658 million days of unused vacation. The top reasons for leaving PTO on the table will be very familiar to those who find themselves spending too much time at work:
• Not wanting to return to a mountain of work (37 percent)
• No one else can do the job (35 percent)
• Cannot afford a vacation (33 percent)
I can completely relate. Though it feels great to finally get away, the days leading up to a vacation can be incredibly stressful as you try to tie up all the loose ends, and coming back to a fresh pile of work can be daunting.
But that doesn't mean it's not worth it. Taking time off has been linked to a reduction in stress, heart disease, and depression. Vacations also improve marriages and other relationships. A study published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal found that those who take vacations at least twice a year are more satisfied with their marriages and the "odds of marital satisfaction decreased as the frequency of vacations decreased."
So how do you actually find the time to make it happen?
Schedule it in advance. Most of us are driven by our calendars — as long as an event or activity is scheduled, we make it happen. It's important to take that same approach to vacation. Put it on the schedule and treat it like you would any other obligation.
There's nothing more stressful than having to squeeze in fun. The further in advance you schedule your trip, the better. If your time off is booked a few months into the future, you can schedule your appointments around your trip, rather than the other way around. This goes a long way in helping you actually enjoy your vacation, instead of spending the whole time stressing about what is going on back at the practice or the work that will be waiting for you when you get back.
Have others hold you accountable. Not only should you schedule your trip in advance, you should pay for it up front. Book the hotel. Pay for the flight. You're less likely to back out if it is going to affect your pocketbook. For added incentive, tell your family, friends, and staff about the trip. If you're tempted to call off your vacation when things get busy, these people will hold you accountable and remind you about your commitment to yourself.
Let locums help you. Though most private practice physicians have more autonomy than their hospital-employed counterparts, they also have less backup. For practice owners, taking time off usually means you're not getting paid and your patients aren't getting seen. That doesn't have to be the case.
Using a locum tenens physician to cover for you while you're away allows your practice to keep up with the patient load and keep billing for services. It also gives you peace of mind that your partners and staff aren't forced to shoulder the weight of your absence.
Radiation oncologist Larry Daugherty joined a practice in Anchorage, Alaska so he could take advantage of all the outdoor activities the state has to offer. This year, he and his team of dogs raced the Iditarod for the second time. He uses locum tenens during the race and while he's training. Not only does it allow him to do something he loves, but it also staves off physician burnout.
"When I do something awesome outside of work, I feel like I come back to work an even better doctor, dad, and husband," Daugherty says. "I was scared coming up to a practice all by myself without any partners, but it hasn't been a problem at all. I do need to plan a little bit more ahead of time, but I'm able to take vacations confidently and comfortably knowing I'm leaving my practice in good hands [with locum tenens] when I do leave."
Vacation season is right around the corner. If you're going to take some time off, you need to make your plans now before your calendar gets so full that it's impossible to leave. Sure, planning takes time and getting ready to leave can be stressful, but it's going to be worth it. Time away from the office allows you to decompress, reconnect with loved ones, and come back to work refreshed and ready to provide care for your patients. Plus, you deserve it!