Time Out: Optimizing Time Management as a Surgeon

09 Sep 2019

By Kimberly Hoang

“I am going to take a course on time management…. just as soon as I can work it into my schedule”.  – Louis E. Boone

As Mr. Boone and Einstein’s theory of relativity understand, time can be a tricky thing. It stands still when we are suffering through something we dislike, we lose it when we are doing something we enjoy, and there never seems to be enough of it.

In an era of quantified metrics, time is also a measured commodity (in administrative speak: “time is money”). According to Sinsky et al, for every hour of patient care, a physician spends 2 hours doing paperwork. Ardnt et al also reported 5.9 hours of a 11.4 hour workday is spent on the electronic health record. The AMA’s 2014 Work/Life Profiles of Today Report that 25% of all physicians work 60-80 hours each week.When one reviews where our time is going, the numbers are disheartening. And female physicians experience unique systemic pressures in the realm of time management.  In the Physician Work Life Study, female physicians reported increased time pressure in ambulatory settings and feelings of less control at work, which was linked with burnout. Torn between clinical, operative, administrative, wellness, family, educational, and interpersonal duties, surgeons often feel as though there is not enough time.

Laura Venderkam counters that we have, in fact, all the time we need in our weekly 168 hours. By reframing our lives based on priorities rather than time units, Venderkam asserts that time will stretch to accommodate what we define as important. Rather than trying to “find” another five hours next week to write a grant, raise the task on your priority list. Conversely, when we do not have time for something, we do not prioritize the task or choose not to do it.

Suddenly the narrative is switched. We are no longer victims of a limited commodity, but rather, in charge of when and how much energy we spend. Venderkam does not bother with small tips and tricks to shave minutes off the day. Instead schedule your week according to your priorities professionally, personally, and relationship-wise ahead of time, blocking off your priorities first. A big-picture mentality (write your successful performance review 1 year in advance) allows you to discover increments of wasted time for joy and personal well-being.

Medical students, residents, fellows, and surgeons nationally across all subspecialities and level of professional experience are encouraged to find some time to weigh in.

Join @womensurgeons with our moderators, Dr. Sasha Adams (@SashaTrauma) and Dr. Kimberly Hoang (@KimberlyBHoang), for a tweetchat about Time Management on Monday September 16th at 8pm Eastern Time by following #AWSchat. If you haven’t participated in a tweetchat with us before, check out this tutorial written by Dr. Heather Yeo (@heatheryeomd) to know more.

We will be discussing the following questions in the tweetchat:
1. What are the areas you struggle with when it comes to managing your time as a surgeon?
2. How do you decide which work tasks are lower on your priority list, and how do you ensure you do not spend too much time on these task?
3. What tasks are worth delegating to others? How do you decide which tasks to delegate without jeopardizing outcomes/team morale?
4. How does time management change during the transition from residency/fellowship to attending practice? Any tips for adjusting to this?
5. How do you approach time management for self-care and personal/family life?

Kimberly Hoang, MD is an Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Emory University Hospital and School of Medicine.  Her clinical focus is in neurosurgical oncology, including the comprehensive management of malignant and benign tumors of the brain, spine and peripheral nerves. Her interests lie in device development and neurosurgical robotics. 

Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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