Practice Management

Hospitalist scheduling: A search for balance

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Scheduling. Has there ever been such a simple word that is so complex? A simple Internet search of hospitalist scheduling returns thousands of possible discussions, leaving readers to conclude that the possibilities are endless and the challenges great. The answer certainly is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Amanda Trask, national vice president, Hospital Medicine Service Line, at Catholic Health Initiatives, Englewood, Colo.

Amanda Trask

Hospitalist scheduling is one of the key sections in the 2018 State of Hospital Medicine (SoHM) report; the 2018 report delves deeper into hospitalist scheduling than ever before.

For those of you who have been regular users of prior SoHM reports, you should be pleasantly surprised to find new comparative values: There are nearly 50% more pages dedicated just to scheduling!

For those readers who have never subscribed to the SoHM Report, this is your chance to study how other groups approach hospitalist schedules.

Why is hospitalist scheduling such a hot topic? For one, flexible and sustainable scheduling is an important contributor to job satisfaction. It is important for hospitalists to have a high degree of input into managing and effecting change for personal work-life balance.

As John Nelson, MD, MHM, a cofounder of the Society of Hospital Medicine, wrote recently in The Hospitalist, “an optimal schedule alone isn’t the key to preventing it [burnout], but maybe a good schedule can reduce your risk you’ll suffer from it.”

Secondly, ensuring that the hospitalist team is right sized – that is, scheduling hospitalists in the right place at the right time – is an art. Using resources, such as the 2018 SoHM report, to identify quantifiable comparisons enables hospitalist groups to continuously ensure the hospitalist schedule meets the clinical demands while optimizing the hospitalist group’s schedule.

Unfilled positions

The 2018 SoHM report features a new section on unfilled positions that may provide insight and better understanding about how your group compares to others, as it relates to properly evaluating your recruitment pipeline.

For hospital medicine groups (HMGs) serving adults only, two out of three groups have unfilled positions, and about half of pediatric-only hospitalist groups have unfilled positions. Andrew White, MD, SFHM, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington, Seattle, provided us with a deep-dive discussion of this topic in a recent article in The Hospitalist.

If your group has historically had more unfilled positions than the respondents, it might mean your group should consider different strategies to close the gap. It may also lead to conversations about how to rethink the schedule to better meet the demands of clinical care with limited resources.

So, with all these unfilled positions, how are hospitalist groups filling the gap? Not all groups are using locum tenens to fill those unfilled positions. About a third of hospitalist groups reported leaving those gaps uncovered.

The most commonly reported tactic to fill in the gaps was voluntary extra shifts by existing hospitalists (physicians and/or nurse practioners/physician assistants). This approach is used by 70% of hospitalist groups. The second most-used tactic was “moonlighters” or PRN physicians (57.4%). Thirdly, was use of locum tenens physicians.

With these baselines, we will be able to better track and trend the industry going forward.


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