As I write this article, the snow is piling up outside. While Cleveland’s west side citizens are raking up the last of fallen leaves, its east siders will dig out of 2 feet of snow. The lake effect is affecting us. The snow plow trucks vainly clear a path only for it to disappear in minutes. There seems to be no end to the torrents of white flakes that are each unique and tiny, but in aggregate uniform and overwhelming.
A blizzard of patients awaits my return from the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology in San Diego. Like snowflakes, they are each unique, but in aggregate can be overwhelming. Plowing through a clinic, we go from patient to patient knowing that we will eventually see them all, then return to our offices or home to finish the labor of charting.
For some physicians, this is a daily reality. Whether patients in the clinic, or cases in the queue, some hematologists revisit the storm every day. Most, however, are engaged in an academic practice where at least some respite from direct patient care is offered. Whether teaching medical students, analyzing data, participating in administrative meetings, or writing manuscripts, most of us do something more beyond the clinic. We do this during our “protected time.”
But what are we protected from? Patients and their concerns? Really, this is what we want to be protected from?
“Protected” is the wrong word. The time we spend pursuing academics is really “professional” time. Some centers call it administrative time, but this also falls short. Time allotted to nonclinical activities keeps us fresh, sharpens our intellect, and ultimately helps our patients. Professional time helps prevent burnout by making us more present when we are in clinic. Professional time allows for scientific inquiry to advance treatments, and encourages continuing education to remain at the cutting edge of technology. Professional time, though, competes with patient time and that tension can drive disengagement.
Patients, and their problems, do not operate according to half-day clinic schedules. When there exists any professional time, patient time is always interfering. The interference becomes more acute as academic success increases and the allotted professional time seems inadequate. Hematologists then start to blame patients for interfering with their careers. A pernicious disdain for patient care may develop because it interrupts the academic motivations that drive many physicians once they get a taste of success. Manifestations of this attitude include dread of inpatient service, negotiations to reduce clinic time for research, and refusal to see or sometimes even talk to patients when not assigned to clinic. The more successful the academic hematologist becomes, the less he or she wants to be troubled with patients without whom professional success could not have been achieved.
The professional and patient time balance is as important to recognize as work and life balance, as one tension directly impacts the other. When nature sends a snowstorm, a warm home allows survival, but if one never ventures from home, the beauty and grandeur of nature is lost. True satisfaction comes from a balance of the two and no one person knows how best to accomplish it. I believe we can learn to manage our professional and patient time better by exchanging ideas and best practices. Please email me at email@example.com with your ideas and we will post as many as we can on the Hematology News website for all to learn from.
Dr. Kalaycio is Editor in Chief of Hematology News. Dr. Kalaycio chairs the department of hematologic oncology and blood disorders at Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.