Pause for Thought . . . Lost time

(From the EiC: Please welcome Lynfa Stroud to the ICE blog editorial board. Lynfa is authoring a new regular feature Pause for Thought based on observations from the life of a CE. If you have an issue, observation, point to ponder etc. let us know.)

By Lynfa Stroud

“Lost time is never  found again.” – Benjamin Franklin   

Like all Clinician Educators, I wear a lot of hats. My personal collection includes  official items, such as being a hospital site director for core internal medicine, attending on general medicine wards, and conducting education research. However, there are many other items in the collection too. They don’t have a formal place on my job description, yet they are still expected of me and not readily visible – and they can take up a fair chunk of time!

One of the activities that I file in this assortment is consulting about education projects with faculty or trainees. I’m not talking about the people you formally mentor or individuals you are collaborating with on projects, but about others whom you are helping to develop and nurture their ideas so that they can then run with them. Don’t get me wrong, I love chatting with people about what projects they are working on and what questions they are asking. However, if this process is done well it takes a lot of time and mental effort. And well, once that time is gone – it’s gone for good and is unavailable for the huge number of other tasks at hand. So what to do about this “lost time?” Should we say, “no, sorry but I can’t help you with your project?” Sure that is an option, but I would suggest that it should rarely be the solution. By our nature as CEs we want to help others; after all it’s likely that others helped us in the past or continue to help us in the present. These informal mentoring relationships are essential for fostering and supporting each other. Additionally, these discussions are often rewarding in some way and might make us think about things a bit differently too.

So the challenge is how do we manage these requests so that they don’t overwhelm us, or how do we make this time visible and “count”, or can we do a combination of the two? In a (very) informal survey of some CE colleagues, it is apparent that almost everyone participates in this (often invisible) activity. Very few people are paid to do this, it’s rarely a specific task in a job description, and it’s not the stuff promotions are usually sealed with. One suggestion that I received has been to document these “consultations” formally in one’s Teaching Portfolio, under “teaching” where learners are involved and under “faculty development” where peers are involved. At least this helps improve the “visibility”
of the invested time and provides some evidence of our expertise or reputation within our communities. But I wonder if there may also be other ways to think about this time. I wonder if others have ideas about balancing these requests and making these activities count – so that the time, while very well spent, does not seem to just disappear. I would love to hear thoughts and suggestions from the other CEs out there.

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