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Dear Boss,
I recently had an emergency medical procedure and had to miss 7 shifts. I’m an independent contractor and needless to say, my paycheck that month really hurt me. Throw on a few medical bills and I’m feeling quite the pinch. I’d like to get the shifts back, but only a couple of my colleagues offered to let me work one of their shifts. What’s your take on this? Should we develop a policy.
Signed,
Back to the fence

Dear Fence,
Kudos to your group for covering for you. Although we all know that every shift has to get covered, sometimes when one gets the call that they’re the only doc available for that Friday night shift, our job loses some of its appeal. I’ve been on both ends of this—covering for a family emergency and needing coverage for my own family emergencies. While canceling plans and working a Friday night shift is better than having a gallbladder removed, it is still a sacrifice on the part of the physician. I believe that when someone makes a sacrifice to cover for a colleague at the last minute, it should be rewarded. Part of that reward as an IC is a bigger paycheck. If you ask your partner if you can do a shift for him to make up your hours and he says he’ll look at the schedule but never gets back to you, I’d let it go. On the other hand, if he gives you two to choose from, it’s your choice, even if they’re not choice shifts. Also, consider that things have a way of balancing out; other emergencies will come up which will be your chance to earn the extra dollars.

On a different note, it’s amazing how many high-income physicians really live paycheck to paycheck, unable to absorb an unexpected shift loss. If this is your situation, talk to a financial planner. They will recommend that you have three months of living expenses put away for a rainy day. While this can be difficult, as an independent contractor, it’s critical for making sure bills get paid monthly. Another option, if you have short term disability, is to file a claim rather than try to get back all of your lost hours.

Like I’ve said, I’ve been on both ends of this and while I always appreciate a little extra money at the end of the month, I’ve been even more grateful to the people who have covered me so that I can attend to my own family. If I was offered shifts afterwards because my colleagues needed a day off, I took them. If I wasn’t, I tried to help out down the line. Overall, it’s more important to make sure the coverage was there for you in the first place and it seems like your group came through for you.

Mike Silverman, MD, is chairman of emergency medicine at Harbor Hospital in Baltimore and Faculty at the TeamHealth Leadership Academy
 
 

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