The Importance of Time Management and Benefits Outside of Residency Training

So I was recently in beautiful Miami for the ASCP Leadership Forum as the resident representative on their Commission on Science, Technology, and Policy (CSTP). While I can’t talk about the specific details of our work, I’d like to take this time to elaborate on some benefits of working within organized medicine for residents and on the realizations that it has brought me concerning the importance of time management.

As residents, it’s difficult to see the “big picture” sometimes because residency training feels like a journey with multiple landmarks we must pass in order to reach a destination far into the future. But I’ve found that my work in organized medicine has always expanded my peripheral vision. In these roles, I have increased my exposure by meeting residents and attendings from other programs – I’ve been able to hear how training differs between their experiences and mine. And this provides me with a context in which to view both the strengths and weaknesses of my previous and current training. And as a chief resident, these experiences have provided me with invaluable insight that allows me to come up with creative solutions to improve both myself and my program. Of course, organized medicine also has provided me with a myriad of benefits from networking.

But participating in extracurricular activities, and in particular, organized medicine efforts as well as union efforts (as one of my hospital’s five CIR/SEIU delegates), takes a lot of time and as expected, time management. In terms of long term time management, I would say that the many leadership positions I have held have helped me to plan out tasks and to meet deadlines. And so as a first year resident, after my first three months or surgical pathology, I was surprised to see “needs to improve time management skills” on my evaluation. And even though I improved on subsequent rotations, I think it has taken me until now as a third year and as a chief to truly understand what that comment meant.

My time management is fine when planning long term goals and overseeing the tasks of those I supervise – skills I honed while participating in organized medicine for many years. But what my first evaluation as a resident was pointing out was that I had trouble initially managing my time in terms of my DAILY service duties (ie – very short term goals). Despite rotating in pathology as a medical student, as a neophyte first year, I didn’t truly understood the scope of what pathologists really did day in and day out, and more importantly, the workflow to achieve these goals. And each year, my skills have improved and shaped my outlook about what is required to be a good, patient and public health centered pathologist. But as a chief now, my view has again been further refined in this regard.

When I interviewed for fellowships, the #1 attribute that programs mentioned as important in a fellow was great time management skills. #2 was being a good team player. My yearly residency training and leadership roles in organized medicine have both hopefully nurtured those two desirable characteristics. But I guess we’ll see when I start my first fellowship in July 2016. Don’t forget to include in your planning time to relax, eat and exercise, sleep well, and set aside one day each weekend to do some casual training-related work such as reading on your current rotation topic.


-Betty Chung, DO, MPH, MA is a third year resident physician at Rutgers – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, NJ.

How to Say “No”

Saying “no” to things is a learned skill that takes continuous practice, and a good amount of balance. The balance is because when you’re starting out in your career, I firmly believe that it’s important for you to agree to requests and to take on new tasks. It gets you out there, introduces you to new people and new skill sets, and teaches you so much you might not learn just performing your regular job. But then we get into a habit of saying ‘yes”, and we all know how hard habits are to break. We think things like, “if I don’t do it, no one will” or “if I do it, it will be done correctly.” Or more than just those things, we all like to please people, especially our friends and colleagues. So when a friend asks you to take on another research project or review a paper or look over some data or run a test or cover their call, we all readily agree to taking on just one more task.

As with every other aspect of life though, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Saying “no” occasionally is good for your overall health and sanity. It’s entirely possible to reach a stage where you’re so over-whelmed that you cannot do a good job at any of the tasks you have undertaken. Thus learning the art of saying “no” is also important, and is something I myself am just still struggling to learn.

Here are some points to remember that may help you when you need to say “no:”

  • Don’t give an immediate response, especially if you have any concerns about having time for this new task. Tell the person you will get back to them after some thought, and tell them when you will reply to them.
  • Give yourself time to consider whether the new task can be accommodated in your current workload, or whether you will have to short something else to accommodate it.
  • Be firm once you’ve decided. Don’t use phrases like “I don’t think I can.” Say “I cannot. ” And be persistent because you may have to turn down this opportunity more than once.
  • Always remember, you are turning down a request, not a person. It is especially hard when the request comes from a friend, but sometimes it is necessary.
  • Accepting a task that you don’t have time for is not doing any favors for yourself or the person asking. If the requestor has to then become a nagger to get you to complete their task, they will not thank you for it.

In conclusion, it’s important to maintain a balance at work without overloading yourself with too many tasks to allow you to accomplish any of them well. Learning to say no to requests is an important part of keeping that balance.

-Patti Jones PhD, DABCC, FACB, is the Clinical Director of the Chemistry and Metabolic Disease Laboratories at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, TX and a Professor of Pathology at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.