Surviving Private Practice: Make Time for Vacation

Posted on: March 23, 2016

Many recent estimates approximate the number of doctors remaining in private practice to be around 30 percent. This is a drastic decrease from past years. This decline has many contributing factors, but the simplest reason is that doctors are burning out.

It is hard enough to practice medicine and keep abreast of all the new treatment guidelines and innovations. Throw in increased regulatory burdens, skyrocketing overhead, and declining reimbursements, and it is a wonder that any private practices survive at all.

While many doctors are selling their practices to larger groups or retiring earlier, I still believe private practice is the best model of healthcare delivery. I find that when I am making every decision in the way I practice, the patient remains center stage.

Like other doctors, though, I feel the strain of the healthcare system upon my neck. And in order to keep it from breaking, I must take some time away from the practice.

Why You Need a Vacation

While it is becoming increasingly more difficult to survive private practice, it is achievable. One of the best ways to prevent burnout is by reminding ourselves that we are human. Though we are frequently on call 24/7, we do need breaks. We are not machines.

In private practice, making time for a vacation can become a feat of wonder. Many of us skipped years of vacations simply because it was too difficult to take time off. Our patients need us. Plus, we lose money whenever we close the office. In order to survive with this practice model, we need vacation time to recharge and reset. Fortunately, it can be done without too much loss.

In my practice, we arrange for another local doctor to cover for us when we are out of town. Our patients are happy that someone is available when they need a doctor, and we still generate some revenue from this other doctor seeing our patients until we return. We do the same for him when he is off. We are very fortunate to have this arrangement. It is a big relief to know that someone will be there when we cannot or choose not to be.

How Locum Tenens Can Help

But not everyone is so fortunate, and that is where locums can help. Some people claim it is too costly to bring on temporary help, but it is less expensive than completely closing your doors for any given period. Besides, your health isn’t something to gamble with.

Locums can give you peace of mind because you know your patients are well taken care of until you return. Also, while it does cost money to hire locums, you will actually be minimizing your financial losses because your practice will generate some revenue in your absence.

If you are still not convinced to take a one- or two-week vacation, you can do a series of long weekends to be away for shorter periods. Overlap them with holidays such as Labor Day or Memorial Day, when the practice is closed anyway, to have a longer vacation without any additional fallout.

Whichever way you prefer, it is imperative to take a break. Thanks to the rising pressures in private practice, we are bearing more of a burden. We cannot suffer this indefinitely. In order to survive this work, there must be times when we do no work. Though we are doctors, we are humans first.

How often do you take a vacation? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @bartonlocums.

About Dr. Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP

Dr. Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP, is a family physician who treats patients in South River, New Jersey and its surrounding communities. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with both St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis also collaborates closely with several universities and medical schools where she teaches medical students and residents. For more about Dr. Girgis, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter @DrLindaMD.

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