Physicians, there's a good chance you hear this question a lot in the summer months: "can doctors even take a vacation?" It can sometimes seem impossible in the the hustle and bustle of the office. If you work in medicine, you certainly can take a vacation – and absolutely should – but it may seem easier said than done. Prepare for your own vacation with these eight easy steps, and you'll be relaxing in no time knowing all is well back at the office.
1) Do a test run.
Make sure that all the failsafe systems and backup plans you've put in place are functioning correctly before you leave the office. Consider running through emergency protocol in case a big problem surfaces while you're out of town. Spend a few hours out of the office or take a "staycation" day to work on a project that leaves you relatively hands-off. Running your office staff and any temporary assistance through the daily routine will make things seem easier in your absence. Take note of any problems you encounter, and rework your strategy if needed.
2) Plan for the worst.
If you're a single provider in a small practice, you'll be missing out on income while you're on vacation. Odds are you've already accounted for a normal revenue loss during vacation time, but it helps to prepare for the unexpected. Consider the worst-case scenarios — especially financial ones — so if they do happen, you spend less time in recovery. Do you have additional security in place during your absence? What's your contingency plan if your travel is held up and you miss additional time in the office? In an ideal world, you'd come back into the office post-vacation with no problem at all, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
3) Limit contact with your office.
Before leaving, decide on the level of contact you'll have with staff and patients. Will you be "unplugged" throughout the day, with a few regular check-ins? Or will you be on-call in case of true emergency? Set boundaries and stick to them. Consider setting aside an hour every morning to answer emails and do a check-in. That way, you aren't returning from your vacation adventures to a full inbox at the end of the day. Your vacation can be relaxing even with occasional check-ins.
4) Give patients notice.
Consider sending an email or paper letter to patients a month or so before you leave on vacation. Encourage your patients to address any problems in the coming weeks, and make sure not to schedule particularly complicated care right before your leave date. Remind patients a week before you leave that you'll be out of town, and explain how things will function in your absence if your practice will still be open with other providers or temporary physicians. If some patients are due for a regular check-up close to your trip, try and schedule those ahead of time so you can get right back into the swing of daily life when you return.
5) Space out schedules.
Since many families choose to take their vacations over summer, chances are you won't be the only one in your practice taking time off. Do your best to ensure your practice staff aren't all leaving town at the same time! Be flexible if you can, and if some events have dates that are non-negotiable (such as a wedding), make sure other people in your practice know about those days well ahead of time. Coordinating schedules may seem like a hassle at the start of the season, but you'll be grateful when you make it to August without being understaffed.
6) Prep temp resources.
If you're going to assign a locum tenens practitioner to help patients while you're away, it pays to do your research first. The website Physicians Practice has an excellent guide to finding an agency, choosing the right temporary physician for your practice's needs and readying the team for your departure. When you start looking for a locum tenens practitioner, prepare onboarding resources similar to those you'd use when hiring new staff. Make sure your stand-in knows where everything is, who's in charge of what in the office, and where to turn if they need help. Don't be too nervous about bringing a locum tenens physician on board — after all, they're used to being dropped into new environments.
7) Be ready for follow-up.
When you get back to the office, you'll have plenty of catching up to do. Ask your office staff to keep daily lists of tasks you'll need to tackle when you return. Take the time to sit down with your office manager, or whoever was in charge while you were absent, and triage those tasks as soon as you get back. Let patients know you're back in town, and consider holding special walk-in hours for patients who have immediate questions. If you have crisis-level situations that need managing, tackle those first. Then, get back into your routine, stick to your schedule and things will return to normal in no time at all.
8) Don't worry!
We've said it before and we'll say it again — physician burnout is avoidable! Taking a vacation is a big part of staying satisfied with your career. Don't let stress ruin your vacation. Remember, your staff is capable and well-prepared, and your patients know you'll be out of town. Take a deep breath, because everything is officially out of your hands. You've spent hours preparing your practice for your vacation. Once it starts, there's nothing else you can do, so let go and enjoy yourself.
What are your pro vacation prep tips? Tell us in the comments!