Unless you’re familiar with hospital medicine, a significant stress point for hospitalists may not be what you would expect. In a survey of hospitalists, 31% of respondents reported their work schedules and scheduling as a whole as a source of significant dissatisfaction in their career and one of the top five drivers of burnout. It’s understandable why this is the case – our schedules seldom have a repeating pattern and can change at a moment’s notice. Because of this, many hospitalists and their team members find their schedules confusing, hard to follow, and a source of frustration.
What’s more, we can avoid all this confusion with proper foresight and care. Approximately 45% of U.S. hospitals create staffing schedules manually using spreadsheets and physical paper. If you work at one such hospital, this is your opportunity to turn a stress point into a strength by listening to your team and working together to create a schedule that will minimize confusion. When changes arise, don’t fear – relay these changes to your team in a quick yet orderly manner. Creating clarity is a monumental but essential task, so to get you started, here are three simple steps you can take to clear up your schedule:
- Manage changing schedules with clear communication. Schedules are incredibly kinetic and adjust all the time–new doctors may come on, team members may change, or we could be short-staffed one day. Communicate recent changes to your hospitalist team, and make sure there is a centralized place to do so. Having a central hub to find schedules and accommodate inevitable schedule changes is key to reducing hospitalist schedule frustration.
- Consider how your schedule syncs up with other teammates. This is particularly important regarding our interactions with our nursing colleagues. We may come on service and go off service at times that don’t sync well with our nurses’ schedules. Synchronization is vital because questions often come up during handoffs, and if our teammates don’t understand how our schedules work or where we are, it’s a setup for miscommunication. Hospitalist schedule creation must include consideration of other team transitions so care continuity and information exchange continue smoothly.
- Communicate with patients on how the schedule works. Positioning your hospitalist teammates and other care team members well is critical to boost patient confidence and improve understanding of who will be caring for them. You can say something along the lines of: “I work with amazing teammates, and we share information to make sure we are all working together.” This communicates that multiple people will assist in caring for the patient while also giving them confidence in the quality of care they will receive. In addition to positioning colleagues well, it is also essential to share your schedule with patients so they know who to expect care from and for how long. Something like, “I am on the hospitalist team that cares for patients on this floor, so my teammates and I will take care of you together until your discharge. We work 12-hour shifts typically, and I’m here for the next seven days.” Helping patients understand how shifts work enables you to set expectations about rendering care in light of complex hospitalist schedules.
As you can tell, the best starting point for clarity is (and always will be) communication with your teammates, patients, and families. Even the best-laid schedule is susceptible to bumps down the road, so ensuring an efficient method of relaying information to team members and patients is key to avoiding frustration and confusion. A schedule, at its most basic form, is a tool that is for our benefit – it ensures proper care coverage and support for every individual on your team. But it can easily become a stressor if left unchecked, so let’s make a conscious effort in this new year to create schedule clarity.
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Mark Shapiro, MD is a hospitalist for Providence Medical Group in Sonoma County. He is also the host and producer of Explore The Space, a critically acclaimed national podcast that examines the interface of healthcare and society.