I have the time

May 4, 2010
Jennifer Frank, MD

Outside one of the offices at our local hospital is a button that displays their motto “I have the time.” Presumably, this means they have the time to help you, answer your question, show you where to go. I ponder how my interactions would change if I adopted this philosophy.

Outside one of the offices at our local hospital is a button that displays their motto “I have the time.” Presumably, this means they have the time to help you, answer your question, show you where to go. I find this idea enormously wonderful, probably because it is such a rare concept in our hyper-busy, jam-packed, super-efficient, maximally-productive culture.

I realize that the people who work in this office have days that are just as hectic as mine, but they have chosen (or been told) to prioritize their availability and customer service.

I ponder how my interactions would change if I adopted this philosophy. Instead of rushing the kids through the morning routine of getting ready for school, eating breakfast, and brushing their teeth, I listen to the very important things they have to tell me: “Mom, look at this rock I found yesterday; it has pink and grey in it.” “Mom, watch me do the hula hoop.”

The few seconds this takes are unlikely to completely upset the schedule and will likely bring a smile to my face before I leave for work. They head off to school knowing that Mom has the time.

Once I show up at clinic, I take the time to greet my nursing staff and gently inquire about how life is going. “Mary, how did your vacation to Disney go?” And I take those crucial few moments to huddle with my staff about the patients that are coming in that day, so we are better prepared for them.

Entering the exam room, I have the time to visit with my patients and share my own adventures of life with four kids. I have the time to answer that “oh by the way” question that inevitably comes the moment my hand touches the doorknob at the end of the visit. Instead of mentally already being in the exam room with my next patient, I remain focused on the one sitting before me. I believe they will sense that I have the time.

At lunchtime, instead of rushing to my office, to madly check e-mail (for the tenth time) and catch up on all the piles of papers on my desk while hurriedly eating a sandwich, I take a few extra moments to pop in to a colleague’s office to say "hi," connect, share a humorous anecdote about life as an academic physician. As a result, I feel less pressured and isolated by the mountain of work that will be there whether I spend my lunch hour working on it or not. I have the time.

In the afternoon, as the day is winding to a close and I am finishing supervising the resident physicians in clinic, I delay my departure for home by just a couple of minutes in order to answer a question, provide encouragement, or coach a resident through a difficult patient care decision. They don’t feel like they are bothering me and don’t feel compelled to apologize for keeping me.

I have the time.