Productive Physician Meetings

March 17, 2015

Do you wince when asked to attend a meeting at 6:30 pm, after a long day seeing patients? Here are some tips to manage expectations and set boundaries.

I recently changed positions at my organization. Instead of doing administrative leadership one day per week and patient care the other days, I am now doing patient care one day each week and administrative leadership the other four days. As you might suspect, this has drastically increased the number of meetings I have in my schedule. I am not a meeting person, unfortunately.

One observation a colleague made about meetings which is proving to be true is that meetings with physicians seemingly have to occur early in the morning or after clinic. The rationale is clear - seeing patients generates income and attending meetings does not. However, in addition to being inconvenient and taking time away from things like exercise, sleep, and time with my family, these meetings at the edges of my workday somehow have been relegated to a less important than other work distinction. If that is the case - that these meetings are truly not as important as seeing patients - then it begs the question of why we are meeting in the first place. On the other hand, if the meetings are important, why aren't they prioritized during a normal workday?

A career in medicine has taught me to be fiercely protective of the times I am not on call, not scheduled with patients, not "at work." As such, I've developed the habit of not doing charts at home, not checking up on patients over the weekend, except in unusual circumstances, and growing accustomed to doing what I advise my patients to do - sleeping seven to eight hours at night, exercising more days than not, eating healthy foods, and enjoying downtime. An aggressive meeting schedule definitely cramps my style of balancing work and life.

So, a few short months into my new role, I've determined that I need to engage those skills I once used to establish boundaries around my clinical work. I've started to question the value of my attendance at meetings in general, and I have a particularly high bar for meetings that start before 7:00 a.m. or after 5:00 p.m. I am also trying (and truthfully, not always succeeding) to give myself a monthly budget of evening meetings. Since I still take call two weeknights per month (which can be long days extending into the evening), my goal, if not the reality yet, is to have no more than two additional evening meetings per month. It seems reasonable to only offer up 25 percent of my weeknights to meetings that take me away from dinnertime with my family. My newest rule, which I am pretty strictly enforcing, is that the time between the start time of my first meeting and the end time of my last meeting cannot exceed twelve hours. I think a scheduled 12-hour workday is a reasonable enough sacrifice, especially considering than meetings often bleed over their scheduled end time. Purposely allowing a day to extend beyond twelve hours is more than I am willing to do.

Beyond my personal rules, though, I remain challenged about the message these meeting times send. To the organization, time spent outside of clinical care has a lower dollar value than time spent during clinic hours, at least to physicians. Maybe instead of pushing the limits of what end up being already long days, we need to be more diligent in scheduling meetings that demonstrate a clear value and purpose both to the organization and to those invited to attend.