Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting the incredible Chihuly Sanctuary at the Buffett Cancer Center during a visit to the University of Nebraska Medical Center. This sanctuary is a beautiful and relaxing space filled with the amazing glass sculpture, some of which I've shared in these photos. Artist Dale Chihuly designed the artwork specifically to provide a place of “respite and reflection” for patients and families. The sanctuary is also a source of respite and refuge for health care providers and other staff, too, since caring for cancer patients is often emotional and demanding, and the dedication required can contribute to work-life stress.

Mitigating stress – specifically work-life stress — was the reason behind my visit to the University of Nebraska. They are developing a program which will span all of their schools of health to promote career flexibility, work-life integration, and promote wellness. They were interested in learning about our experience with work-life flexibility at UC Davis (UCD) since we are considered leaders in this area — my colleague Amparo Villablanca and I have studied the attitudes, awareness, use, and impact of UCD's career flexibility policies (ie. family leaves, tenure clock extensions, part-time work options) via grant funding from the NIH and from an award from the American Council on Education and the Sloan foundation.

During my visit, a faculty member brought up the value of vacations for reducing stress, but noted that there is a lot of unused accrued vacation time among the Nebraska faculty – a phenomenon that I believe is fairly common at UC Davis, too. In fact, 52% of Americans report having unused vacation time, according to a recent national survey by Project Time Off (1). Interestingly, one of the greatest barriers to using vacation was employee's fear of looking less dedicated to one's work — 61% of the survey respondents reporting this barrier had unused vacation time. A heavy workload and lack of coverage also adversely influenced vacation use – 56% of those reporting each of these barriers also left vacation time on the table (1). Perhaps not surprisingly, these barriers are identical to the barriers to use of family leave and other career flexibilities options that we identified in our study of UC Davis faculty — i.e, concern about looking less committed to career and burdening colleagues (2,3).

Unintentionally, we seem to be creating a society of “work-martyrs” – i.e., those who sacrifice themselves or their families for work. There may even be a stigma toward those who wish to use the vacation time that they are entitled to, identical to the flexibility stigma that we identified in our study on use of career flexibility policies (2,3). The US has a national culture of over-work that has been growing since the industrial age and that does not exist in many other countries. This is especially common in elite professions, like healthcare, and much has been published on the topic (4-8). Work martyrdom is unhealthy and becomes a large source of stress that is fueling the need for wellness among medical professionals. This culture of over-work can also adversely affect patient and workplace safety since tired and burned out employees do not perform at their best.

Making the time to plan a vacation has also been reported as a barrier to using vacation time (1) – this is likely also related to our culture of over-work since putting in long hours doesn't leave a lot of time to plan a getaway. But we are fortunate to live in California where great vacations spots are only a short drive away, including the Lake Tahoe area, barely 2 hours away. Have you heard of the phenomenon of “forest-bathing”? It's a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku that has become a cornerstone to preventive health and healing. Simply visiting a forest in a calm and relaxed way – not necessarily a rigorous hike — and breathing in the forest air has been shown to be rejuvenating and healing, and actually lowers blood pressure and increases natural killer (NK) cell counts to improve immunity (9). Though I haven't been formally trained in Shinrin-yoku, it's a practice that I believe in, enjoy, and finding calming and renewing.

So what's the message in this month's blog?? Summer has arrived, so bite the bullet and take a vacation – it's good for you and those you work with! Support your co-workers and be willing to cover their absences so that they will take their vacations, too. Sharing each other's workload should not be seen as a burden, but should strengthen relationships and collegiality, enhance teams, and ensure a culture of safety and preparedness, as well as a culture of flexibility that is a source of pride here at UC Davis Health. And I encourage everyone to share your vacation experiences afterward – even on this blog site, if you wish – or in your work team. Sharing will encourage others to do the same and helps teammates get to know and appreciate each other on a different level.

I wish everyone a wonderful, refreshing, and reinvigorating summer, full of forest-bathing, sunbathing, Chihuly glass-gazing, or whatever you find relaxing!


  1. State of the American Vacation 2018. (Accessed 6/30/2018).
  2. Howell LP, Beckett LA, Nettiksimmons J, Villablanca A. Generational and gender perspectives toward career flexibility: an approach to ensuring the faculty workforce of the future. AJM 2012, 125:719-728.
  3. Shauman K, Howell L, Paterniti D, Beckett L, Villablanca A. Barriers to career flexibility in academic medicine: a qualitative analysis of reasons for the under-utilization of family friendly policies and implications for institutional change and department chair leadership. Acad Med 2018; 93:246-255.
  4. Davies AR, Frink BD. The origins of the ideal worker: the separation of work and home in the United States from the market revolution to 1950. Work and Occupations 2014; 4:18-39.
  5. Damaske S, Ecklund, EH, Lincoln AE, White VJ. Male scientists' competing devotions to work and family: changing norms in a male-dominated profession. Work Occup 2014; 41:477-507.
  6. Reid E. Embracing, passing, revealing, and the ideal worker image: how people navigate expected and experienced professional identities. Organization Science, Articles in Advance 2015; pp.1-21.
  7. Blair-Loy M. Competing devotions: career and family among woman executives. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA 2003.
  8. Howell LP, Beckett LA, Villablanca AC. Ideal worker and academic professional identity: perspectives from a career flexibility educational intervention, Am J Med 2017; 130: 1117-1125.
  9. (Accessed 6/30/2018).