How do you maintain healthy relationships while you commute hundreds or thousands of miles to work? It can be hard enough when you commute 30 or 60 minutes to work, what happens when you leave for a week at a time?
You already know it takes a special breed of provider to be a traveling clinician. You like the flexibility of the schedule, your choice of plum assignments, ability to be an independent contractor, and seeing different parts of the state or country. But how do you make it work?
If you’re single, it’s especially important you build relationships in your new community to have support during the rough days. Despite our busy schedules, consider stopping for coffee or lunch with different people to build your social network.
For your family, I expect you’ve already sold your spouse on the idea of traveling for work. Maybe their career takes them out of town regularly, too. If you’re child-free, your spouse may even travel with you.
When you leave your spouse or family behind, though, focus on these three areas to help you stay connected.
Physically, you’re not there to give them a hug, a kiss, or a pat on the back. So how do you stay close? Technology is a wonderful thing. FaceTime or Skype them every day – either after school or at bedtime, depending on your schedule. The most important thing is to be consistent. A verbal pat on the back can make all the difference. Seeing that beautiful smile or that kiss good night? – priceless.
Be there mentally and talk to them about their days. Listen carefully to what they say and respond to it. Let them know you’re listening. Tell them something funny, or tough, about your day. You can make it a life lesson if you want, but mostly it needs to be about connecting.
Emotionally, connecting is key. If your children find you distant and unapproachable, they’re going to have attachment issues. Your spouse may not stick around. Learn what your love languages are (words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, physical touch), then learn theirs. We most commonly give love the way we like to receive love. If you can understand and adjust to their love language, they’ll thrive faster. For my daughter, the most important love language was words of affirmation. Every time I spoke with her on the phone when I was away, I told her I was proud of what she was accomplishing and of the young woman she has become. Remember to praise an accomplishment as well as the person.
The other relationships you’ll need to attend to occur within your medical staff. Appreciate your colleagues for the excellent work they do. Think to tell them you appreciate the assistance they offer, whether from a different specialty, or from a different perspective. Those “atta- boys” may be the best, most positive thing they hear all day.
We are all in this together. Protect yourselves, your families, and your colleagues. Together, we can maintain healthy relationships.