Recently, I was out on a Friday night with a friend who is a resident in another program. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time because of our hectic schedules. Around 10 p.m., she received a text from her attending asking her if she had left the scripts ready for the patient who was leaving on Monday.
Much has been written about professional boundaries and bosses texting their employees. For most jobs, a boss texting after hours over nonurgent matters is completely out of line. But in the medical field, there are no limits. People say, “Oh well, it’s the physician life.” Well maybe if we had more professional boundaries, our quality of life would be better. Maybe there wouldn’t be such a huge rate of burnout.
I encourage physicians to remember to contact your resident and coworkers during business hours. If the matter is not placing patients in danger, it can wait till the next morning. Nobody wants to pick up his phone in the middle of dinner to deal with patient care–related expectations that can be addressed the next business day.
Receiving a text brings all the stress of work back in the middle of our time off in which we are trying to take care of ourselves and the rest of our lives. It adds unnecessary stress to the overall high stress level and undermines our attempt to have a social life and meet a friend. A quick Internet search shows many blogs, journals, and different websites discussing this issue, but the voices of doctors and other health care providers are strangely silent on this topic.
I consider emails a more professional way of communicating than a text. I check my email often during a 24-hour period, and when I do, I’m ready for any potential information I might receive. I do not get notifications on my phone from my work email. But like my friend, I can’t avoid texts. We should have the opportunity to use our right to disconnect.
Some may argue, “Put your phone on silent if you don’t want to deal with it.” But not only do I use my phone for my life outside of work (as a resident, I make an effort to have one), but I want to be available for my peers and juniors when they are in the hospital. I want to be a resident my coworkers can text when they have a question and appreciate my advice. That is a decision I have made about the type of resident I want to be, and I am comfortable with it. Now if they text me asking a question that can wait till business hours the following day, they are crossing boundaries.
It might seem like a gray line. Somebody – maybe residency programs or our professional organizations – should address this so we have clear guidelines to protect our off-work time. Doesn’t our culture need to change the “physician life” so that we don’t bring our work responsibilities out for dinner on a Friday night? If the issue doesn’t need to be resolved quickly, it should be a given that texting is inappropriate.
Dr. Serrano is a PGY3 psychiatry resident at the Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia.