Work Environment Matters for Physicians and Patients

Plenty of primetime television dramas depict physician work environments as a giant, non-stop adrenaline rush. Gravely injured patients are wheeled in on gurneys, bursting through ER doors while wailing in pain, while nurses and technicians swirl around in a constant frenzy of activity.
While some physicians—both early career and seasoned veterans—really do gravitate to, and enjoy, the fast pace of a large, busy, urban ER, others are drawn to more relaxed, routine, relatively predictable work environments, such as a private clinical practice, a quiet research laboratory, or an urgent care facility in a sleepy, small town. 

So, what is your ideal work environment?

In an era of 24/7 television programs that show us how to improve our home environments—think Home and Garden Television (HGTV) and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) networks—it can be easy to overlook or forget about the work environment where we spend a good third or more of our time. Perhaps this is because we assume work is different, and we don’t have as much latitude when selecting where to work because…well, at its most fundamental level, work is necessary to earn a paycheck.
But, work culture is vitally important to overall happiness, so you should never underestimate the need to think carefully about where you will spend at least one-third of your time.

Swim with the sharks, or go it alone?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of physicians work in large hospitals, HMO’s, or group practices, with relatively few working in solo practice. This translates into more physicians needing to work collaboratively and cooperatively with larger groups of support staff, such as nurses, technicians and administrators. It also means that they must be more trusting of colleagues who often play a greater role in diagnosing and helping determine appropriate treatment plans for patients. Knowing which climate is more suited to your personality, professional goals, and personal demands outside of work is a crucial first step.

Don’t be fooled by “flexibility”

Inspired by Silicon Valley startups and companies like Google and Apple, many healthcare employers now tout “flexibility” as a key benefit for prospective employees.
Caveat emptor! In this era, choosing to work for an employer that requires more rigid work hours, with little or no flexibility for time away, might seem like an obvious dead-end. But, before you quickly say “No!” to that model, you might want to dig a little deeper.
Often, employers that require more structured workweeks and offer less flexibility, also, in turn, respect your time away from work to a greater degree. In other words, more rigid work hours might translate into fewer interruptions from supervisors or co-workers during your non-work hours, i.e., evenings, weekends, vacations and holidays. Many prospective employees jump at the chance to have greater flexibility, but then later regret their choice after discovering that their employer does not respect traditional personal/professional time boundaries.
So, when interviewing for your next job, be certain to ask thoughtful questions aimed at revealing the true work culture and environment of the hospital, practice, or other healthcare organization you are considering. Ask other employees to share their own experiences, and try to discern if the work environment truly suits your personality and expectations before accepting the job.
Above all, be honest with yourself about the type of work culture or environment that will make you happiest.

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