5 Tips for Physician Work/Life Balance

Being a physician is no easy feat. The pandemic has revealed more than ever that healthcare heroes sacrifice everything they can to ensure our well-being. Due to the nature of their work, physicians too often don’t know what it means to have a work/life balance. Moreover, many physicians don’t recognize the importance of a work/life balance for the success of their careers. That’s why The Rounds is here to highlight the importance of such a balance, explain what affects that balance, and provide our top five tips for achieving a happy medium between work and life. Keep reading to learn more about how you can achieve a more comfortable, more fulfilling career!

Importance of Work/Life Balance for Physicians

Over the last few decades, the physician lifestyle has changed quite drastically. As Andrew Wilner, M.D., puts it, physicians have much less autonomy over their schedules and finances. He explains that there has been a decrease in solo practitioners since the 1980s, which means fewer physicians are working for themselves. Instead, most of today’s physicians work for employers, meaning less control over their schedules, finances and ultimately less control over their work/life balance. Such changes have had a significant impact on physicians’ well-being. Today, the profession has the highest suicide rate of any. Physicians also suffer higher rates of burnout, depression, and work-related anxiety than ever before. Burnout not only affects the health of physicians but it affects patients’ care too. Researchers have studied that physicians undergoing burnout are twice as likely to make medical errors. Physicians cannot underestimate the importance of maintaining personal well-being while caring for others.

Tips to Balance Work and Life

According to research, significant levels of burnout in physicians become apparent through three main factors: workload, workflow, and scheduling. We’ve curated the following tips in hopes of alleviating some of the burnout caused by these stressors –Keep reading to find out what they are!

Tip #1: Frame Your Mindset

Reaching a work/life balance will look different for every physician. To get started, decide what it is you want work/life balance to be. Decide what you need to allocate time for – what is most important to you? What brings you the most joy? Examples could include time spent in nature, time spent bonding with family, or time spent travelling for mini-vacations over the weekend. For Jill Garripoli, M.D., taking time to go to the spa reduced her burnout after years of being solely work-oriented. Jill also noticed that this increased her motivation and productivity. Christine Palmay, M.D. and The Rounds user agree with Dr. Garripoli. Dr. Palmay explains how “Sometimes ‘achieving’ balance may be interpreted as doing everything,” when ultimately, that is not the goal. The goal instead is to find satisfaction in both work and life. As Dr. Palmay states, “Balance must be personal and not according to an algorithm.”

Tip #2: Set Boundaries and Expectations

Most physicians live an integrated lifestyle where they are accessible to non-colleagues during work hours via social media and smartphones. For that reason, it can be difficult for physicians to distinguish between personal time (with family and friends) and professional time (focusing on work). Physicians agree that setting boundaries to make this merge of two worlds less intrusive. For some, setting boundaries means not taking non-work-related calls while at the hospital, and for others, this means not bringing work home. It is also important to remember that having a work/life balance doesn’t mean that physicians will necessarily spend 50% of the time at work and the rest doing whatever they want. Realistically, work/life balance means being able to make time for the things that bring happiness. Perhaps not all the time, but often enough that burnout is out of the question. John Fernandes, M.D. and The Rounds user explain how he sets aside time for family by regularly taking time off from work. In doing so, he states, “I work long hours, but I feel balanced and happy.” As Dr. Fernandes’ example shows, work/life balance means making time for life

Tip #3: Manage Your Time

The workload that comes with being a physician is often inevitable. However, proper scheduling and time management may help to manage the busy workload. Studies done by Canadian researchers suggest that burnout stems from the feeling of not having a manageable amount of work or enough time to complete it. Keeping a calendar, to-do list, and setting reminders have been shown to alleviate work-related stress. Another significant issue that many physicians face is missing major life milestones such as a child’s marriage or a new baby. Therefore, physicians should not be afraid of scheduling time around significant life events. It is an essential aspect of time management. As Albert de Goias, M.D., puts it, “life is a perpetual state of change and instability,” so making your schedule a bit more flexible to adapt to the constant change that life throws your way is crucial.

Tip #4: Using Work Hours Effectively

Reducing the amount of work needed to take home is another way to improve work/life balance. Many would agree that they would rather spend quality time at home with friends and family than doing paperwork or extra administrative tasks after work hours. We recommend several methods for physicians to alleviate the amount of extra work on hand. Firstly, experts call upon organizations, hospitals, and universities to ensure adequate staff coverage so that the amount of work per person and per physician is not overwhelming. Secondly, physicians should aim to participate in events, meetings, or training during work hours as opposed to after hours. With these tips, physicians may feel more comfortable taking breaks and using vacation days, ultimately increasing their work/life balance.

Tip #5: Get Connected

Finally, we cannot stress enough how important it is to make your life as a physician easier. That’s where The Rounds comes in. A secure, collaborative network of Canadian physicians gives you access to the information you need to know while reducing your time searching for it. At The Rounds, you’ll have access to exclusive communities where you can connect with other physicians, such as our ResilienceRx community focused on conversations surrounding physician mental health.