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The Average Vacation Time for Doctors: 5 Ways to Make the Most of It

Most physicians work extremely long hours, week after week, and are at risk of suffering from job burnout. Taking the time for a little rest and relaxation can go a long way toward helping them reduce stress levels, enjoy more family time and stay at their best in order to deliver quality patient care.

But how many vacation weeks to doctors take? Is it enough to help them recharge and maintain a healthy work–life balance?

The 2018 Medscape Physician Lifestyle and Happiness Report, which surveyed more than 15,500 doctors across the United States, found that a third of the physicians surveyed take just 2 weeks of annual vacation or less.

The full survey results showed the following average vacation times for doctors:
  • 6% of physicians take less than 1 vacation week annually
  • 27% of physicians take 1-2 weeks of vacation
  • 49% of physicians take 3-4 weeks of vacation
  • 11% of physicians take 5-6 weeks of vacation
  • 7% take more than 6 weeks of vacation

  • The Medscape survey also found that employed physicians enjoy slightly more vacation time than those who are self-employed; 69 percent of employed physicians take 3 weeks or more compared with 63 percent of their self-employed peers.

    A lack of adequate vacation time may help explain why so many doctors are fighting burnout. A new survey from Merritt Hawkins, conducted on behalf of The Physicians Foundation, found that that 3 of 4 physicians (78%) report that they sometimes, often or always experience feelings of burnout.

    Many studies have found that physician burnout—if not properly addressed—can be destructive to physicians’ health, as well as their practices and the patients in their care.

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    5 tips to ensure physicians take a vacation, and get the most out of it:


    1. Schedule your vacations in advance—and stick to your plans.
    Both employed physicians and practice owners are more likely to take the vacation weeks they need if they plan ahead, announce the dates they will be away, and treat them as an “absolute” that they and their colleagues have to work around.

    2. Bring in help, if needed
    .
    Many practices will arrange for their physicians to cover for each other or will bring in extra help when vacation time is needed. Yet, practice owners may have a harder time carving out their vacation weeks, especially if they feel that their patients and their business will be left short-handed. Fortunately, even small practices can hire a locum tenens physician to care for patients on a temporary basis while they enjoy a much-needed getaway.
     

    It’s also important to establish proper boundaries, so that while you’re away, your staff and patients know not to contact you except in the case of an extreme emergency.

    3. Include mini vacations throughout the year.

    Who says a physician’s vacation time has to be taken all at once? As part of your planning, schedule some long weekends and/or single-week vacations at optimal times throughout the year. These short breaks can allow you to participate in family events, or simply enjoy a good mental and physical break from workplace stress.  

    These mini vacations should supplement, and not completely replace a longer vacation, however. In a recent blog, Dike Drummond, MD, who conducts training to prevent physician burnout, pointed out the importance of scheduling a full 2-week vacation (or longer), at least every other year. 

    4. Consider getting paid double for your vacation time.
    If you are an employed physician in need of extra money to pay off student loan debt or save for a major purchase, you can also consider working locum tenens assignments on your days off or during your paid vacation time. These short-term assignments are available in multiple specialties, and can occur in single shifts each week or for a week or more at a time.

    5. Start with a more flexible schedule. 
    Some physician practices and hospitals allow block schedules and other types of flexible scheduling that make it easier to fit in short breaks and vacation weeks throughout the year. Consider your options carefully when applying for any new physician job, and make your vacation part of the negotiation. 

    Physicians can also choose to work full-time locum tenens jobs; this allows them to make their own schedules, choosing when and where they want to work, with the ability to plan extended vacations between assignments. 

    Related:
    How Millennial Physicians Are Creating Work-Life Balance


    LOCUM LEADERS places physicians and advanced practitioners in short-term and long-term locum tenens assignments throughout the country. 

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