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Healthcare Leadership Strategies: Taking Time Off for Yourself

By Barbara Schmidtman, PhD

May 25, 2023
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In her monthly leadership series, Dr. Barbara Schmidtman—vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health West—offers her perspective on addressing workforce-related issues through effective leadership practices. Find all her posts in this blog series on the ACCC website.

It’s that time of year again! The birds are chirping, the flowers are in full bloom, and the sun’s rays radiate joy and possibilities into our soul. For many of us, this time of year makes us think about taking some time off to enjoy the things mother nature and our loved ones have given us. Some of you may already be planning a big vacation this summer and have been looking forward to it for some time, while many others may be caught up in the busyness that surrounds our lives and haven’t taken a moment to sit back and say, “I need some time for me.” Additionally, May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so taking time off work to focus on you and your needs is incredibly important for your own mental health. 

If you are one of those people who hasn’t yet taken some time off this spring or summer dedicated to yourself, hopefully this ACCCBuzz blog will inspire you to do just that.

Emerging From the COVID-19 PHE  

This month marks the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), meaning we now know many of the things that we didn’t when COVID-19 first emerged. For many of us, the end of the PHE feels like a dark cloud has been lifted off our shoulders, but for others this may feel like the end of running a three-year long marathon. The end of this marathon may leave some of us feeling burned out, on edge, and extremely exhausted; further, perhaps some of us haven’t taken a vacation or mental health day since the PHE began! It is no wonder why, when we surveyed the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) members in 2022 using the Mini Z burnout inventory, participants reported increased levels of burnout that we haven’t seen in our industry before.

With that being said, I think this is why all members of the cancer care team need to make a personal commitment to themselves to take some time off work (or PTO) over the next three months. Take time to go for a walk, enjoy time away with your family and/or friends, see something you’ve never seen before, try a new food, and most importantly enjoy every single moment of it. 

My Personal Experience

I have not been a good steward of this myself lately. I’ve allowed myself to get too involved in the minutia of every single aspect of being a healthcare leader. But because of the awareness that exists now about burnout, feeling comfortable with being vulnerable, and being mindful of when you’re not okay, I was able to self-reflect recently and realize that I was on a path leading to burnout. 

For those who heard me speak at the 2022 ACCC National Oncology Conference on burnout and oncology leadership, I should be the first person to practice what I preach. Or, as the saying goes, “Do as I say, not as I do.” With no planned vacations in front of me and seemingly endless hours of meetings, emails, work, and personal obligations, life began to feel very heavy. When I began to notice feelings of exhaustion and burnout within myself, I took a moment and identified some time that I could take off from work immediately. I have now committed a long weekend, time in the summer, as well as vacation after the Christmas holiday for my family to go someplace warm and inviting.  

Remember to Set Boundaries

If you have had a chance to reflect and realize that there is no better time than right now to take a break from your work, please remember to set boundaries. All too often, we commit to taking time off but then get suckered into checking our emails, taking a phone call, or sitting through a meeting, which opens us up to doing more of these activities during our PTO. 

You may be having a great day off, feeling relaxed, and think to yourself, One email won’t hurt. Or, One phone call isn’t that bad. I can assure you that it is. Even as benign as the call may seem, you are setting the stage for how you manage your personal time and how your teams feel about their time off. If you want your team to follow in your footsteps, put the phone down, delete your email app, and focus on you during your time off. And remember, we—as leaders—are not any good for anyone, if we aren’t feeling good ourselves. 

Barbara Schmidtman, PhD, has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years in a variety of professional and clinical roles. Currently, she is the vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health in Grand Rapids, Mich. Dr. Schmidtman is the Chair of the ACCC Governmental Affairs Committee and the Workforce Subcommittee Chair, a subgroup of the association's Governmental Affairs Committee. Dr. Schmidtman earned her Doctor of Philosophy in business administration from Northcentral University, where she specialized in industrial organizational psychology. Her doctoral studies focused on physician behaviors and how demonstrated physician leadership affects individuals and teams—either positively or negatively. Dr. Schmidtman has a passion for speaking locally and nationally on leadership styles and approaches.

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