How often have nonphysicians told you that they could never work the hours you do?

Most people think physicians are a unique breed, and in some respects, we are. But in important ways we are just like everyone else. When we work long hours under stressful conditions and go without adequate sleep or nourishment, we cannot function at peak performance. Just like everyone else, we can become irritable, grumpy, and cynical when our basic needs are not met. We are human too, and we are at higher risk than most people for burnout, depression, and even suicide.

An article in the Journal of Hospital Medicine in 2014 noted that slightly over 50% of hospitalists were affected by burnout. We scored high on the emotional exhaustion subscale, and 40.3% of us had symptoms of depression, with a surprising 9.2% rate of recent suicidality. Hospital medicine definitely has its advantages over many other fields of medicine, but as this study demonstrates, there is still much to be desired in our “work-life balance.”

Each practice has its own perks and negatives, and what will enhance the lives of hospitalists in one group may make intolerable the lives of members of another group. For instance, it is no surprise that 12-hour shifts with 7-on, 7-off block scheduling can be exhausting. If you have a family, this schedule leaves plenty of fun time on the weeks you are off, but you may still be missing 50% of your family’s life if you leave for work before your kids wake up and return after they go to bed.

Whatever your concerns and stressors may be, rest assured, you are not alone, and if enough of the members of your group have similar issues, you may be successful addressing them with your director or hospital administrator. Retaining good hospitalists is vital to the financial success of many hospitals, and being flexible enough to truly meet their reasonable needs can literally make or break a hospitalist team.

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