Today’s guest post is by Vagabond MD, the radiologist whose interview inaugurated the Docs Who Cut Back series. His contributions to the physician financial literacy and wellness sphere have graced numerous blogs and podcasts, and his status is best summarized in the title conferred on a guest post he wrote for fellow celebrity blogger Hatton1: “Vagabond Speaks, I Listen.”
Does working part time make you a better doctor? I do not know the answer, but I have suggested it in the past (including my guest post here), and I have seen others suggest the same. I think that it is widely accepted that working part-time as a doctor is part of the recipe for eliminating burnout, recapturing the joy of practicing medicine, and reestablishing a healthy work-life balance.
This past week, I had an experience that might provide some support to the “better doctor” hypothesis. Perhaps this anecdote will shed some light on the matter, and, no doubt, my fellow part-timers have similar stories of their own.
For background, our hospital recently purchased a new, fancy schmancy CT scanner, with ALL of the bells and whistles, including an automated post-processing option that does the work previously done by technologists, with near perfection, and in seconds, rather than the ten to fifteen minutes previously required to do by hand and only when the tech caught a break between scanning patients. Since the computer does not need a break in the action to get this work done, the step-up in efficiency is breathtaking.
At any rate, we received an email from our Chief that there would be a required training for this post-processing software this past week, Wednesday through Friday, and we were asked to sign up for a one hour slot to receive our training. As expected, most of my partners signed up during the work day, to leave their service to get their training, and then return back to work.
Having the luxury of free time during the week, I signed up for training on my off day. I woke not to an alarm but to dogs nudging me around 7:00A. I fed them and took them for an extended walk, hit my spinning class at 9:00A, the flower shop to pick up Valentine’s Day flowers for my wife and daughter, came home, had lunch at home, and headed over to the hospital for my appointment.
I then attacked the training process with the same vigor that I attacked spinning class a few hours earlier. It took about 15 minutes to learn the primary objective of this class, to learn how to identify a recent stroke and to quantify the penumbra. Upon reaching that point, most of my colleagues left the training and went back to work. You see, they were not given time off for training, but just a break in their schedule to work in the training, check the box, and get back to their stations. Their work did not stop while they were training; it was piling up. I have been in previous training sessions under similar circumstances, and that had been my approach. Get
in, check the box, and get back. It’s hard to concentrate on learning something new while you know that your day’s work is not getting done.
However, today I was here on my own time, and I wanted to learn as much as possible about the new software and its capabilities, and I looked at every single vascular case in the sample directory. It is a very powerful tool, and I learned how to use it thoroughly. I also looked at some lung and musculoskeletal cases, too, well beyond the intended scope of the training and our immediate use for the product.
The trainer was impressed with my enthusiasm as we went over the allotted hour and much deeper than he typically goes with training clients, and the hospital’s lead CT technologist complimented me for my tech savviness. The fact is that the only thing special about me was that I my brain was not already half-fried from work, there were no distractions, and I was not pressed for time.
This certainly does not prove that being part-time makes you a better doctor, but being part-time allowed me to get the most out of this training module, far more than any of my colleagues, and I actually enjoyed geeking out on the new capabilities. If you extrapolate this to other learning opportunities and the overall increased bandwidth and mental freshness at work, you can make the argument that part time physician work can certainly lay the groundwork for better patient care and outcomes. It would be an interesting study to do, perhaps in the ER environment where there are multiple metrics and patient satisfaction scores that are measurable.