Your Career: How to Negotiate Your Schedule

An ER physician with an unpredictable schedule and the need for a better work-life balance wants to discuss the situation with the boss. Our careers consultant weighs in.

QI am an emergency room physician who has been with a midsize hospital for just over two years. Since this was my first job, I accepted a position with the understanding that my schedule would rotate until the hospital became fully staffed, then my schedule would become more predictable. But several physicians have come and gone, and I am still working unpredictable schedules. I am having trouble creating anything that resembles a personal life. How can I facilitate a conversation with my boss that explains my commitment to the hospital and my desire to have a personal life?

A Facilitating a conversation always begins with your preparation and understanding the needs and values of those with whom you are speaking, and ultimately a willingness to make personal change if necessary.


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The hope is to end with a win-win, but situations that contribute to an unbalanced and unhealthy life are never winners. Take the following approach.


Review your contract and make sure you understand what it states about your rotations and your options in terms of termination and notice. Oral promises easily dissolve. If you don't understand the contract, ask a lawyer to review it with you.

Have a copy of your schedule for the two years in a usable format as a discussion point. Words are subject to interpretation, but data is concrete and helpful in problem-solving. Also, develop a realistic schedule you’d be willing to work.

Research your other employment options. They do not have to be part of the conversation, but, in any situation discussing change, knowing your options relieves anxiety and helps with personal clarity in any negotiation.


Plan a three-phase meeting during your initial conversation with your boss. In your first meeting, present the situation and data, and ask questions to get a feel for the direction of the discussion. Be open and honest about your situation and the effect it has on your life — and also your willingness to be a team player. This meeting is to understand the needs of your boss and the organization and to give them a chance to solve the problem.

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Set a follow-up meeting within two weeks. Discuss the last meeting as a refresher, and let your boss take the lead in suggesting a solution. The outcome will depend on whether they took the problem seriously, which you will know by asking what your boss suggests. Be willing to give your boss time to implement changes, but you must present a time limit. Usually, 90 days is enough time; that suggestion might have to come from you in planning the third meeting.

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Plan the third meeting within 90 days. This meeting is to review progress, and this is where you speak from the strength of your preparation and your boss’ problem-solving skills. If your schedule and life are improving, then be willing to make some other suggestions and be part of long-term improvement. If little action has been taken, that indicates a culture that might not be compatible with your career and personal goals. Don’t threaten, but it might be time to take action on your other job options.

Always be professional and willing to work things out, but there are many paths in life. You have to decide what’s best for you.

Topics: Career Planning Journal

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