“I’m the only one who gets the job done. I don’t know nobody that can cover for me.”—Lil’ Wayne
Every. Minute. Counts.
As a new grad working in inpatient rehab, I quickly learned that minutes are the “name of the game”. For those not familiar with inpatient rehab, every patient must receive at least three hours of therapy each day, typically split evenly between physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. So, generally speaking, I would see each of my patients for at least one hour every day. That’s 60 minutes. And no, 59 minutes just won’t do. So, when one or more of your SLP team members is out, you become responsible for working together to cover those 60 minutes of therapy for each of his/her patients, which can easily result in the all-too-familiar days of back-to-back therapy sessions.
I remember in the first few months of my clinical fellowship, we covered for one of our team members who was out for two weeks. I remember the sheer panic in everyone’s eyes at morning huddle when we would decide how to cover her minutes for the day. I remember days we would break from huddle already defeated at 7:30am. I remember being a little overwhelmed. I remember driving to work in the dark and driving home in the dark. I remember vowing never to leave my team members frenzied to meet minutes on my behalf—I would always be at work.
There were days when I longed for a desk job. You know, the kind where your work waits for you until you get back to the office? Then I wouldn’t have to ignore the advice of my family, friends, and inner-self to “call out” or “take a sick day”, and I could evade the weight of letting my team down. Instead, I had convinced everyone, including myself, that I didn’t have the luxury of taking a day off. Being in the medical field, it’s not always as easy as dropping everything and getting lost for a long weekend—your patients still need you even if you aren’t there. The day I submitted my first PTO request, I was afraid of the impact my absence would have on the team and overcome with guilt knowing that someone would have to pick up my slack.
So, for a long time, I pushed through 8-hours days when I wasn’t feeling well.
I strained through therapy sessions when my voice was nearly aphonic.
I drove through inches of snow and ice in the dark on some mornings before the salt trucks even made it out because I didn’t want to be too late.
I booked 6:00am flights on Monday mornings, so I could make it into the office by 9:00am.
But over time, I realized that risking your life, well-being, and sanity for a job doesn’t make you a stellar employee. There are no perfect attendance awards in the real world. It doesn’t earn you a gold star next to your name. It just makes you kind of...eh, stupid, and honestly, a little reckless, because you aren’t bringing your best self to your patients each day.
Fast-forward to today, and ya girl will submit a PTO slip with a quickness—and won’t think twice (LOL). So when I recently learned that millennials are more likely to feel guilty, afraid, or shameful for requesting vacation days in comparison to other generations, I immediately pitied those poor millennial souls who hadn’t quite mastered this system of work-life balance and I hastily declared, “that’s definitely not me!” But the more I read, the more I saw a younger version of myself illustrated. Further, with the profession of Speech-Language Pathology comprised of over 96% women, it was deeply unsettling to read that millennial women are the least likely to use their vacation days, especially given the often emotionally taxing nature of our work and the frequent caregiver burden we assume. While I was comforted to know that I wasn’t alone in my past workaholic ways, I was disappointed to realize so many professionals are leaving their paid time off on the table—reluctant to take a much needed break for themselves.
Speech-Language pathologists, especially those in the medical setting, must resist the narrative of becoming “work martyrs.” As cliché as it sounds, life is short and moves faster than any of us would like or are prepared. I encourage you to take time for yourself (trust me, your job will manage!) Spend time with your family. Call out when you are sick. Take a mental health day to finish that book or binge watch that series. Go to your dentist/doctor‘s appointments and don’t feel bad about grabbing a solo lunch before you head back to the office. Book that week-long vacation to some place you’ve never been. De-stress and recharge. Because in life, EVERY. MINUTE. COUNTS.