Ling* was the senior radiologist on staff at her practice, where she was also in charge of building the schedules. That night, as Ling headed out the door, she felt she couldn’t get out of the hospital fast enough. She had just released the 4th quarter schedule and, from the moment it was posted, her day had been a non-stop series of whining and complaints.
One doctor said he had worked the last four weekend calls in a row and was upset to see he was scheduled for two more weekend calls in the next month. Two other doctors felt that the senior physicians were getting all the cushy call assignments and, unlike them, were not expected to work the Monday after weekend call.
Of course, since it was the final quarter of the year, Ling was also flooded with people upset that work was affecting their vacation plans. One doctor said she had worked the last three Christmases and enough was enough.
Ling couldn’t have agreed more. She had spent most of a month pulling the schedule together and had tried very hard to distribute assignments fairly. She wished she could get her colleagues to understand that it wasn’t as easy as they thought.
Ling diligently tried to keep track of who last worked which call, but not all the providers were contracted to work the same amount, so it was hard to balance. Ling also had no record beyond her own notes of who worked when – and her notes were just a series of Excel sheets, filled with lists by each name. With over 80 radiologists, it was simply not possible to keep track of it all.
Adding to the pressure was the recent experience of Ling’s friend, who worked at a nearby private practice. At dinner last week, she had told Ling that three people at her practice had quit over problems with the schedule. In fact, their vice president was having to fly out from corporate headquarters just to address the situation.
It sounded like a total nightmare – one Ling hoped her practice could avoid.
Lack of Transparency
Ling’s experience is, unfortunately, typical of large practices where scheduling data are not effectively monitored.
The resulting lack of transparency serves as a trigger point for complaints of unfair call and holiday distribution. Left unaddressed, these complaints can generate an atmosphere of doubt and mistrust that can pervade an entire practice. See: How Stress Points Can Improve Your Call Schedules.
When frustration levels run high, it is helpful to have clear data on hand to diffuse the situation and keep the focus on facts, not rumors. Therefore, the first step in addressing these concerns is to create a system where data are reviewed regularly. Staffing metrics that track assignment stress levels, as well as distribution, should be used to ensure fairness when building the schedule.
However, where low morale is pervasive, staffing data alone are not sufficient; opening a dialogue on issues affecting morale is also necessary. This can be done with staff meetings, one-on-one conversations, suggestion boxes, online polls, or any other method you feel is a fit for your staff.
A staff survey is another vital step in addressing morale problems. It clarifies the situation for all parties and provides a baseline of people’s feelings and concerns. Follow-up surveys should be done once or twice a year to ensure steady progress is being made with practice morale.
*Names, situations, and example data presented throughout this post are meant to serve as fictional examples only. They have been created as composites representing common situations, but do not reflect specific individuals or organizations.