“If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” -My Dad
Sometimes, it’s just that simple. If you have a desire, you need to make it known. Usually, the worst response you can get is “no,” and you’re right where you were if you hadn’t asked at all.
You might be surprised when the answer isn’t “no,” but instead it’s a “maybe” or even a “yes.” As my friend Dr. Dawn Baker tells us in today’s guest post, there are tactics that can help you get the answer you want.
Like me, she is an anesthesiologist, and like me, she asked for a part-time position and got it. That’s not all she got.
How To Ask For What You Want At Work… And Get It
I was sitting in the lounge eating lunch one day, and a fellow anesthesiologist approached me with a skeptical expression.
“So… I heard that you’re going to take 9 months off. HOW did you get that?”
Between bites of his sandwich, another colleague chimed in from across the table, “She’s a badass.”
Laughing, I simply said, “I asked for it.”
You could say that my motivations for asking were borne out of a desire to live, and to live more intentionally. When I experienced a health scare during my residency training, which I initially assumed was just due to stress but turned out to be a cancer, I knew I wanted my work in medicine to be streamlined and simple; I wanted nothing to do with administrative or research roles and only wanted to focus on clinical anesthesia.
I asked potential employers for part time or no call positions. Reactions were mixed, and although there were ultimately tradeoffs in the scope of my practice (like not getting to do certain specialized cases), I landed such a position.
Years after my transition from resident to attending, I underwent a long battle with infertility. And when that battle finally ended happily with a baby, I felt an overwhelming need to spend as much time with her as possible.
Around the same time, we learned about the financial independence movement and realized that we were indeed already financially independent.
I didn’t need more money, so my motivations became all about optimizing happiness for me and my family. About 6 months after my maternity leave, I decreased my clinical commitment to 0.5 FTE.
Seeking Out a Sabbatical
The past three years have provided a great balance of time with my daughter and time with my patients. I may already be in the OR before her daycare even opens, but it’s only 2 days per week and I’m almost always able to pick her up myself at the end of the day.
We don’t need multiple nannies or outsourcing of tasks to simply stay afloat on the river of day to day life. I’m able to be present with my husband and even spend a little time on myself (blogging or exercising or just reading things like Physician on Fire!).
But at the same time, my practice group has seen an increase in the complexity of scheduling its physicians at a growing number of sites, along with more restrictions on the timing of vacations.
Amidst all the constraints, we’ve longed for the simplicity of slow travel like we used to do. Like our old adventures of rock climbing around the globe… only with a toddler in tow. So here I am, currently on that 9-month leave of absence to travel with my family before said toddler reaches kindergarten age.
Given all the above, you could also say that I’ve asked for a concession or two at work – no apologies and no regrets. Your time and your money are inextricably linked. While you can always make more money, but you cannot get back your time.
Are you feeling overwhelmed, flirting with burnout, or just simply desiring to simplify your clinical duties? Would your mind and body benefit from a mini-sabbatical?
Seeking out a change in your work situation might be just what you need to sustain your happiness in a job that’s pulling you in in many directions and stretching you thin. Many would argue it will make you a better doctor as well. Read on for my tips on getting what you want regarding your time at work, based on my own experience.
Embrace Being Uncomfortable
Admittedly, I’m uncomfortable when I either know or perceive that others don’t like me. Many of us feel this way; even PoF said as much in a recent interview.
Having your finances in order can help to give you some confidence in this realm, but even the most financially independent among us can be nervous in the face of dissenters. In order to make big changes and reap big benefits, you have to take the chance that someone isn’t going to approve.
Many people have said to me, “I’d love to do what you’re doing, but I could never take that much time off”.
My response is always the same: have you thought about asking? The worst thing that can happen is that “they” (whoever they are – your boss, your spouse, other loved ones) say no. You’re not going to get fired – from your work or from your family – by asking for what you want; they need you more than you think.
Know Your Value
It reportedly takes somewhere around a quarter of a million dollars to hire and onboard a hospital-based physician in a new medical system. Whether you desire to decrease your time at work, take more vacation, or take an extended leave, it’s most advantageous for your employer to continue their relationship with you.
In addition, you just might be one of those physicians practicing in a specialty or geographical area of great shortage. The community you serve can’t afford to lose you completely… but if you end up happier at work due to your proposed schedule change, everyone (including patients) benefits.
Time Your Ask
It may sound cliché, but timing really is everything. In my experience observing reactions to my own proposals and those of other colleagues (both successful and unsuccessful), timing is the most important factor.
My department happened to be particularly short-staffed right when I realized I wanted to decrease my number of practice days per week, so I waited a while to approach them about dropping my commitment. At the same time, I made sure to volunteer for some of the extra shifts our scheduler was pleading the group to fill.
When the new hires came along in the summer, that’s when I pounced on the opportunity to make my proposal.
If you’re really feeling unsure about asking the head of your group, consider putting out a feeler first by talking to a trusted but more senior colleague. I did this when I asked for my recent leave; at my annual review with my trusted mentor, I mentioned what I wanted to do and asked him what he thought before moving up the ranks.
Offer Them Something In Return
Is there a way that you can soften the impact of your proposed change in work duties?
Maybe you can offer to rearrange the upcoming call schedule yourself. Maybe you can preemptively identify a colleague who would generously take over a specific duty for you.
Crispy Doc wrote about reengineering his entire group’s shift schedule to result in a more egalitarian distribution of time off. In his persuasion, he emphasized how it would benefit others (not only him).
When I asked for my 9 month leave, I had little pushback from my department chair (largely because my timing was good). The one thing he did bring up in our meeting was the coverage of anesthesia services for a small, office-based location where I’m one of the principal team members.
Anticipating this concern, I offered to recruit 2-3 more people who would willing to practice there (and gave him the name of one colleague who I had already approached).
What To Do With Your Newfound Free Time
If your ask is met with success, what next? You’ll have some space to figure out what you really want. Is it more connection with family? Pursuit of an avocation that’s just for you? Service in a nonmedical realm?
For my sabbatical, we’re starting things off this fall in the southwest with (ironically) more “work”; we’re doing some much-needed home improvements, the kinds of things you never seem to have time for, to our condo (formerly used only as a winter escape).
Then we’re headed out in our converted Sprinter Van RV to tour a few of the national parks nearby, parks that my husband and I visited as children growing up in the southwest but have yet to experience through our daughter’s eyes.
We’ll spend some time with grandparents and cousins. And we’re going on some longer adventures to international places we’ve never visited but have always wanted to see. Places like the Caribbean Islands and Costa Rica, which we once heavily researched for trips but gave up on due to the logistics of visiting them under the constraints of standard vacation windows.
As long as we can find an internet connection, my husband will fortunately be able to do his work remotely wherever we go.
As with any recommendations, results may vary. Depending on your specialty and practice environment, getting what you want could be slightly easier or much more difficult than what I’ve experienced. But I hope this inspires you to think of ways you can creatively and effectively move towards a work situation with more balance!
[PoF: We happen to be starting our big travel adventures at the same time as the good Dr. Baker and family. My “sabbatical” is likely to be more permanent in nature, but how cool would it be to free from work for the better part of a year?
Interested in reading more about part-time work as a physician? I”ve got you covered.