I have a busy obstetrics and gynecology practice. One of the aspects I enjoy most about my work is getting to know patients during their pregnancies. Developing these relationships is great — until I go away on vacation or to attend a medical conference. Some patients get very upset when I announce my pending absence because they don't want their babies to be delivered by anyone but me. While I understand their concerns, I have a tough time helping them accept that I simply won't be there and that the locum tenens physician I choose can be trusted. Frankly, sometimes I feel guilty about going away. Can you help me resolve this issue?
Bad News Bearer
Dear Bad News Bearer,
You've presented two distinct concerns here: (1) Establishing trust between your patients and your locum, and (2) feeling guilty about going away. Let's deal with each issue individually, starting with the question of trust.
Even when you aren't away there's no guarantee you'll be available for every delivery. As you well know, traffic, surgery, and other unpredictable realities of life can get in the way. Part of bonding with your patients is preparing them for the fact that there's always a chance that someone else might be delivering their baby.
Information is the first step in creating trust. As soon as you have confirmation of the dates you'll be away, and have hired a locum, let patients know so they can make an informed decision about how they wish to proceed.
If at all possible, bring your locum on early so you can begin making introductions and start passing the torch. If that's not feasible, you may want to consider hosting one or two special events where patients can meet and mingle with you and your locum before you go away.
It can also be beneficial to provide written information about your stand-in for patients and their partners or coaches to review. In addition to highlighting your locum's credentials and adding some testimonials, include a photograph; it helps people identify with the person they'll be sharing one of the most memorable — and oftentimes frightening — experiences of life with.
Providing these facts will help patients feel better about your absence. Still, some people may opt to see another obstetrician for continuity, while others will be just fine with the fact that you're going away. Which leads to the second part of your question, guilt.
I'll keep this short. Whether it's for personal, professional, educational, medical, or spiritual reasons, you deserve time away. Your patients and your staff need you to be wholly present when you're at work. That's not possible without taking time to learn, rest, and grow. You can turn your guilt into gratitude by honoring your natural need to reenergize, reflect, and regroup.