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Physicians Should Use Vacation Time to Relax


Docs have the tendency to get stressed out when there is not enough down-time. Fully enjoying a vacation can allow them to reconnect with both family and patients.

Coming up is our family's summer vacation. We are driving far away to a spot with poor cell-phone reception. I can't wait. As my brain slowly disentangles from work, I am planning my time away and how it will impact my patients and colleagues. I know that different folks handle this in different ways. I tend to leave and be done, trying to avoid checking my inbox or finishing up projects. Some of my colleagues do not allow 24 hours to go by without checking the electronic inbox remotely. Ever. I am a strong advocate of vacation time being used solely for vacation, and here is why.

• Your family deserves all of you. Physicians ask a lot from their families. Often family members' needs may have to wait or be put on-hold when the pager goes off or an emergency arises. Even without those interruptions, we work long and late hours, including weekends and holidays. Our patients run into us at soccer games, the grocery store, and when we're on a date-night with our spouse. Vacation is time to focus on them without the burden of professional distractions.

• Your colleagues can be trusted. I sometimes manage one of my partner's inboxes and will see that he has gotten in there a few times throughout the day. I don't think he does this because of a lack of trust but perhaps because it is hard to let go or he doesn't want to overburden me or is really bored in whatever CME lecture he is attending. Whatever the case, I often will down-prioritize my management of his inbox. If he wants to do it, who I am to get in the way? However, when he is ready to allow me to manage his patients while he is away, I am happy to do that - especially if it means he can enjoy his vacation or CME.

• You need the rest. You are likely very busy with work and home responsibilities. You need to turn off your mind, sink your toes in the sand, or breathe deeply the mountain air that surrounds you. More importantly, you need to remind yourself of the slower pace that often feels just beyond your reach in the day-to-day of things. If you cannot relax, then you probably need longer or more frequent vacations.

• Your patients will benefit. Have you ever worked with a frazzled physician, or worse, been to see one as a patient? You know you are not getting their best and chances are they will not exude empathy, compassion, and concern. We all have the tendency to get impatient and stressed when we have too many obligations and not enough down-time. If you can enjoy your vacation, reconnect with your family, leave your work at the office, you will no doubt return to your patients with increased resilience to manage the issues they bring with grace and compassion.

I hope that you too have a summer vacation planned with those you love. I also hope that you can enjoy it fully, without guilt.

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