Physician ‘Single-Tasking’ Puts Focus on Patients

January 25, 2011

One of the strange-but-wonderful parts of my new job is that I essentially am responsible for only one thing - taking care of patients.

One of the strange-but-wonderful parts of my new job is that I essentially am responsible for only one thing - taking care of patients. Granted, this is what I do eight hours a day. There is no administrative time, meeting time, or research time. However, the singleness of my responsibilities is welcome. Instead of mentally sorting through a laundry list of things to do which included in no particular order: finish resident evaluations, write case report, complete IRB application, meet with colleague about curricular project, prepare PowerPoint presentation on atrial fibrillation, etc, I just have the one thing - take care of patients. 

Of course, taking care of patients involves numerous other items such as reviewing charts, finishing notes, staying up-to-date on the current literature, fielding phone calls, reviewing results, refilling prescriptions, and so on. But, it's just the one item. I don't find myself spending precious minutes triaging between patient care, education, resident crises, or scheduling conflicts.

Research demonstrates that multitasking is actually a series of rapid shifts between single tasks that erodes the quality and efficiency with which you do anything. Having to switch back and forth between attending to different things requires a few seconds of “start up” time each time you focus on something new. This matters to me, since I am aiming for top efficiency. The more efficient I am, the quicker I complete my tasks, and the better I feel about the whole work-life balance. Efficiency doesn't necessarily translate into shorter work days but it does make me feel like I'm not wasting time, which is my most valuable resource.

So, I welcome my new single-tasking role as “just” a doctor. I'm eager to build up my practice and refine my clinical skills so that the time I spend in my profession is time well spent. Not only will this give me a tremendous sense of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it will allow me to head home to my family and focus on them completely, knowing that I've been able to check off the item on my work to-do list.