Objectives: Doctors who are satisfied with their careers have less stress and burnout and are less likely to make medical errors and more likely to provide a higher quality of patient care. In response to reports that residents experienced barriers to taking time off, Oregon Health and Science University designed a survey to evaluate residents' awareness of their programmes' policies for time off, their ability to find time for personal needs, and associations of both with career satisfaction, emotions and training experience. Methods: All 675 residents in a large, urban, tertiary care academic medical centre located in the USA were invited to participate in a confidential, web-based, cross-sectional survey in 2008; 66% completed the survey. The survey instrument consisted of a variety of items including yes/no, multiple choice, Likert scale and narrative response types. Results: Only 41% of respondents were aware of their programmes' policies regarding time off. Residents who reported awareness of a policy were more able to find time to take care of personal needs (odds ratio = 1.553, p = 0.026). These respondents reported more positive experiences and emotions, fewer negative experiences and emotions, higher levels of career satisfaction and relatively less perceived stress than those who were unaware of a time-off policy. In addition, these respondents reported, on average, fewer work and more sleep hours. Conclusions: Our results highlight the importance of ensuring mechanisms for residents to find time to fulfil personal needs in order to enhance resident well-being and career satisfaction. Ensuring resident awareness of time-off policies is one way to do this. Our study demonstrates that ensuring residents are able to find time for personal needs has significant consequences with respect to resident perceptions of well-being and may be an effective strategy to promote career satisfaction and prevent burnout.
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