Across the country, doctors are dealing with an increased prevalence of workplace burnout. This sense of exhaustion and frustration is, in part, caused by an increase in workload and hefty schedules. According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, physicians work up to 20 hours longer than other professionals. To combat this epidemic, there are a number of steps physicians can take, including therapy and counseling, joining support groups and attending wellness conferences. In another plot to further preserve physicians' wellbeing, Stanford University's Department of Emergency Medicine is fielding a new program called time banking.
How the program works
Time banking is part of a two-year, $250,000 study by Stanford to help improve physicians' lives and minimize burnout-induced departures. In 2013, Portland State University launched a study that examined the retention rates for doctors in academic medicine. After 10 years, four out of every 10 doctors had left the field entirely. One of the most common complaints? Working left little room for family and hobbies.
That is where time banking comes in. In many ways, it's akin to a child's arcade game. Doctors accumulate "credits" by completing what the Washington Post called under-appreciated work. That includes serving on committees, covering colleagues' shifts, serving as a mentor or emergency deployments. Doctors can then turn in these "credits" in for a number of work- or home-related services. So far, the physicians in the study have had access to handymen, babysitters, dry cleaning pickup, research assistants and Munchery, a company that delivers ready-made gourmet meals. Stanford hasn't experienced any turnover with the participants in the study's first full year.
"This gives me more bandwidth at work," said Dr. Greg Gilbert, a participant and emergency room physician at Stanford Hospital. "And because I can hang out with my kids and not be exhausted all the time, I'm able to be the kind of parent I'd always hoped to be."
Not only are doctors in the study feeling more engaged and satisfied, but time banking is having effects elsewhere. For one, hospital administrators have found a cost-effective way to help employees relieve work-related stress. According to Paul Auerbach, Stanford's former chief of emergency medicine, the time baning program only comprises 1 percent of the hospital's budget. He called it one of the more fiscally responsible of the hospital's many programs.
Because more doctors have additional time to write grants, participants have been able to submit 22 proposals during the study. Nearly 40 percent of these have been approved, resulting in $10 million worth of additional research money. Additionally, volunteering around the hospital has increased 83 percent, with physicians reporting feeling more connected to their colleagues. There is even time for work-related conversations, with science discussions between doctors jumping from 9 to 55 percent.
The time bank program is also addressing a much deeper concern in regards to women in the health care field. According to The Washing Post, women comprise half of all medical school graduates, yet only 19 percent of physicians at academic hospitals. The reason? A lack of time. One study published by the American Association of University Professors noted that women doctors have less time for grant writing and research because of housework and child care.
The future of time banking?
Within Stanford Hospital, other doctors and departments are awaiting final results before expanding the study further. However, Dr. Hannah Valantine, one of the participants and a hospital cardiologist, said this is a crucial program for dealing with one of the biggest issues facing doctors.
"The whole idea of addressing work-life fit as an important business case for excellence has not been bought into yet," she told the Post. "And I would argue that it should be right up there."
While it's a program geared primarily toward academic hospitals, physician's offices can explore similar banking ideas. One potential idea is to allocate a small percentage of funds into any number of these home-related services. Then, each time a doctor within the office completes a task, they can exchange their credits. You might also implement the same concept with your office staff. According to Business Management Daily, administrators are also quite prone to burnout. Having a mechanism like time banking is just one way to help continually motivate your staff.