Can you even remember the last time you weren’t being pulled in different directions every single day? The days when you didn’t have to choose between a warm meal at home and piles of paperwork at the office? Getting a life is a serious challenge for most doctors—patients, long hours, paperwork, insurance, and ongoing education requirements are all vying for a physician’s time and attention. It’s no surprise that a personal life is often hard to achieve.
A controversial 2011 New York Times editorial by anesthesiologist Karen Sibert inspired debate about whether work-life balance for doctors was even a worthy goal. She contended that doctors have a higher calling and must always put their patients first. Considering the looming physician shortage and the bottleneck at medical schools and residencies, Sibert could not see a place for doctors who were not 100% committed to their career. But this all-or-nothing attitude may be the very reason 6 out of 10 physicians plan to retire early.
Today’s doctors demand more from life than just work. They want to travel, pursue personal interests and hobbies, have flexible hours, and simply have a life outside of work.
In an effort to protect their leisure time, millennials are introducing efficiencies to healthcare, such as electronic health records and online communication with patients that could reduce burnout.
According to Dr. Daniel Wozniczka, a Chicago internist, millennials are the key for a better future in the medical field. He believes that physicians should be running hospitals and developing the laws governing healthcare. With more doctors like Wozniczka seeking MD MBAs, there may be hope that effective change can eventually be made.
But is work-life balance possible for doctors here and now? We say yes, but it must be fought for. Below are three tips to help you get there:
Be present with your patients. They are, after all, the reason why you chose medicine in the first place. Your ability to make a difference in their lives is key to finding satisfaction as a physician, which is the “work” side of work-life balance.
Doctors are helpers, and helpers have a hard time saying no. One tip, from “Happy MD” founder Dike Drummond, is to use your calendar as a weapon. Filling your calendar with regular family and social “appointments” can help you keep work from monopolizing your time.
Many doctors have found ways to share a practice, reduce their hours, or combine medicine with a second career. Though few pre-millennial doctors would have considered these options, they are possible today.
Work-life balance for doctors may be evolving, but that doesn’t mean it is out of reach. You can be a doctor and still have a life. It’s just something you’ll need to work towards.