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I can’t speak on behalf of all in my specialty, but I wager that there is a good percentage of radiologists out there who essentially work nonstop from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave, working through lunch hours, etc.
Throw in a mandatory meeting every now and then and “the list” of studies to be read can explode and truly be demoralizing.
I have had some days where it was so busy that I honestly did not even have time to take a simple bathroom break (or even time to hydrate to necessitate the need for a bathroom).
[I bring with me a 64 oz jug of water to remind me to hydrate each day and on more than one occasion have returned home with it hardly being touched.]
I have heard of colleagues who dictate studies during lunch while holding sandwiches and taking bites between the pauses.
Fortunately, not all days are like this but the days that are can certainly push you further along the burnout continuum.
Many states have mandated periodic breaks for workers including dedicated lunch breaks.
Lawmakers have recognized how vital a work break is for employee health and safety.
As physicians how often have we neglected what others are entitled to and therefore put ourselves in harms way?
The sacred lunch.
Anyone who knows me for any period of time will discover that I am a big fan of food.
Slogging through the morning workday list only becomes bearable when I start the countdown, anticipating when I get to eat my lunch.
However one of the worst things that can happen, in my opinion, is that, just when I am about to eat, I get interrupted with a phone call or either a technologist or colleague entering my office and wanting to discuss a case.
I remember one time when my microwave oven just signaled that the meal was ready and a colleague came in and proceeded to go over a complicated case with me.
By the time I got to eat, 15-20 minutes later, the food was cold and unappetizing.
I have also had instances where I have an actual fork in my mouth and chewing when someone comes in and wants to go over a case.
I find it difficult to continue to eat and discuss at the same time so invariably I push my food off to the side and just watch it go cold before my eyes.
These occasions certainly pile on to my personal Burnout Factor Units (BFUs.)
It is not like I am recreating a fine dining experience in my office and that I require a full lunch hour to eat.
Nope, I typically nuke a frozen entree and end up scarfing it down in under 15 minutes.
But it seems those 15 minutes often coincide with other clinicians wrapping up their morning schedule and having some free time before they have lunch themselves.
Clawing Back Protected Time And Fighting Burnout.
Just recently I decided that if I do not make any attempts to create protected time/space for myself, time that is legally afforded to every other employee in my organization, I am only harming myself, increasing my feelings of being burnt out, and subsequently not being good to anyone.
My new personal policy for work sanity is that my carved out protected time begins the moment I remove my frozen entree from my office fridge and put it into the microwave.
Immediately prior to doing this I lock my office door.
I also ignore any phone calls that I may receive during this period.
I may choose to actually read/finish a case while the food is getting warmed up, but that is about the only radiology thing I have on the docket until the last morsel of food has entered my alimentary tract.
As soon as I am finished eating, again typically within a 15 min time span, the door gets unlocked and my phone is once again open for business.
There is no one better out there to look after your well-being than yourself.
You may think you are doing yourself a favor by having an always “Open Door Policy,” however I assure you that unless limits are put in place, like the ones I recently implemented, it can lead to your detriment.
Anything that can be done to preserve your physical and mental health has to take priority.
If you find yourself not able to drink the appropriate amount of fluids during your work day or skipping bathroom breaks, you can slowly start to stress your internal organs, with your kidneys being first in line.
Not only will you find yourself having mental burnout, you may find yourself with physical burnout as well.
I have found it is not only okay, but necessary, to have a “closed door policy” for some defined period in my workday so that I can keep functioning at a high level not only for the rest of the day but for the rest of my career.
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Man, you can’t just keep working non-stop throughout the day and maintain focus and concentration. We’re not wired that way, it’s unreasonable.
And as for open door, when I was a big-wig manager I mostly had an open door but started closing it more often as I started to dislike the job more. It got noticed, and one of my subordinates once commented about it.
I agree that going full speed nonstop is a recipe for disaster.
There are reasons why laws were created to have workers take breaks after certain amount of hours of work but most doctors do not abide by them. In the long run this is far more damaging mentally and physically and does eventually take its toll.
On the other hand, I’ve lost 20 pounds (that I needed to!) in the past 4 months by skipping lunch. Call it a forced intermittent fast. In interventional pain I’m running out too fast to get hungry or cranky, so I barely even noticed I was doing it.
Your point is well taken though, we all need our space, whether it comes as a cup of coffee first thing, a lunch break, or some music at the end of the day.
Congratulations on losing that much weight especially this time of year (it’s funny but I have a post coming out I believe in a couple of weeks that it is a battle I have lost this year).
Music is a huge part of my workday and plays continuously while I am reading studies. But yes everyone has something that makes him or her regain sanity and that should be protected at all cost.
I would venture to say that most docs do the work through lunch routine. It’s a set up for earlier burnout. I like your idea of the secluded office for just a short period of time. In fact, I think there should be several times during the day that that is done. Bathroom breaks don’t count as one of the breaks.
I do hope some docs follow my lead and implement this practice. Honestly 15 minutes is nothing in the grand scheme of things and it really does allow me to enjoy an uninterrupted lunch which does a lot for my psyche.
I agree bathroom breaks should not count as an official break either. It is amazing what physicians really put their bodies through even after med school and residency.
Thanks for dropping by Badger and commenting. Always appreciated.
I now have a friend who brings 3-4 items for lunch and eats on the installment plan due to incessant interruptions. I prefer your locked door policy, although coding patients can’t wait!
My locked door policy would be far more challenging to accomplish in an emergency environment. Fortunately in an outpatient setting for my practice it is incredibly rare (but yes that would be a valid interruption for me during my protected quarter hour)
I think you are off to a great start but why not stretch a little more. Turn that lunch break into a thirty minute one with no work related reading whatsoever. Also institute two breaks, fifteen minutes each, in the morning and afternoon. Just set you phone to remind you and lock your door or take a walk outside the facility. You are a good doctor and a good guy, so be good to yourself.
It is great advice for sure. This post was written before we added a 3rd full time radiologist partner so the stressors have decreased considerably since then.
It was definitely a fine line to walk on before he joined. Could take more breaks but then there would be no way to finish the work before I wanted to leave (5p)so the tradeoff would have to be staying later. Fortunately that is no longer the case as the volume is far more manageable now
Agreed! The more available you make yourself, the more your time is solicited. Mental health breaks, whether it includes food or not, are essential in our specialty!
Exactly. It is imperative that there are organized down times in the work day. It’s hard to go full tilt the entire time, working through lunch etc.
I totally agree with you on the topic of scheduled breaks. I also think a 15 minute power nap should be added!
Lol. I love that idea of a power nap. Being in a dark reading room already sets the perfect environment to do so.