Docs Are Vehement: Vacations Are Needed to Recharge

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As Americans plan to make the best of the heat and humidity, high gas prices, and unstable airline schedules to head off on summer vacation, a Medscape poll on physicians’ vacations, including whether time off helps alleviate workplace burnout, showed that a significant number of the 778 physicians surveyed feel that vacation helps relieve their stress and recharge their workplace battery.

Burnout and its insidious symptoms of exhaustion, compassion fatigue, and reduced professional ability have increased over the COVID-19 years. In a recent survey by tech health company Wheel, 80% of patients shared that their doctors seem stressed and overwhelmed during their healthcare visit.

The poll, first published on May 26, found that 46% of physicians think vacation helps alleviate their workplace burnout some, while 38% said it helps “a lot.” Only 14% said it doesn’t help very much, and 3% said it doesn’t help at all.

How Much Vacation Do Physicians Take?

In Medscape’s Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2022, one fifth of physicians reported taking 5 or more weeks of vacation each year. The physicians polled here replicate those results.

Twenty-eight percent of the 778 polled physicians take 5 or more weeks off, and another 28% take 4 weeks of vacation annually. Only 21% said they take 2 weeks off, while 4% take 1.

And when it comes to how much time off physicians think is optimal to recharge and relieve burnout, 33% of those polled think 7-9 days is best, and 20% said 10-12 days works most optimally.

Does Vacation Help Recharge and Refresh You?

While it seems likely that taking time away from any job, let alone a demanding and stressful physician practice, could help recharge and refresh, alleviating the symptoms of burnout, only 38% of physicians reported that they come away from vacation recharged. Another 47% said “it depends,” and 15% said vacation doesn’t leave them recharged and refreshed at all. Perhaps it’s more about where physicians go on vacation and what they do during their time away that’s the impetus for rejuvenation.

Where Do You Go on Vacation?

When it comes to alleviating burnout, many of us might think that lying on a lounge chair reading a novel may seem more relaxing than, say, running all over a city sightseeing or traversing a theme park, and physicians somewhat agree. When Medscape asked where you prefer to vacation for the maximum relief of burnout symptoms, physicians overwhelmingly selected a beach trip (57%), followed by sightseeing in a foreign country (44%), sightseeing in the United States (34%), and a mountain or lake retreat (33%).

Conversely, just 9% selected a theme park trip with family, camping (12%), and a cruise (14%). Not surprisingly, none of the respondents chose the staycation option.

Working Vacations

Finally, we asked physicians how much they really get away from work while on vacation. Do they try to disconnect from work while taking time off, or is that an impossibility?

How often are you interrupted by phone calls and emails? How often do you check on your patients? And are you ever fully disconnected from your work life when you’re vacationing?

Among the physicians polled, 23% said they work often on vacation, followed by working sometimes (24%), rarely (21%), and never (only 12%). A study in the Journal of Women’s Health reported that engaging in work-related behavior on vacation is universal among female physicians, even though they know it has negative mental health effects.

The majority of physicians answer email while vacationing (81%), respond to text messages (68%), answer phone calls (47%), chart and check on patients (both 32%), and perform other tasks (11%).

Here’s to beach trips, sightseeing, and many mountains or lake retreats this summer.

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