Work-Life Balance Tips for PhysiciansJanuary 18, 2018

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance remains one of the greatest challenges for any medical professional. Few jobs have more potential to bleed over into real life, to introduce unexpected schedule changes, or to send you home seething with emotional turmoil. To improve your balance, keep these eight tips in mind.

Know your priorities

Before you can begin to really work on work-life balance as a medical professional, you need to first take a step back and figure out where your priorities lay. What hobbies do you want to keep up with? What relationships do you need to pay attention to?

Schedule thoroughly

A detailed schedule should be the first tool you reach for when establishing a healthy balance between work and the rest of your life. Schedule high priority ‘life’ things as far in advance as possible, and put them down on a calendar to make them concrete. It’s much easier to take that vacation, go to that concert, or see that school play if you set it down in your schedule well in advance.

Following your schedule is just as important as making it, of course. If you let yourself change plans at the drop of a hat, you’ll quickly ruin any balance you’ve established.

Establish your boundaries

You need to decide as quickly as possible what is and isn’t okay in terms of crossing the line between work and life. Maybe you don’t want to talk about work after your shift, even if you’re out with colleagues. Maybe you hate having friends or family ask you medical questions all day, or maybe you can’t handle being particularly close with patients. Learn what you can and can’t handle in terms of the intersection of life and work, then set those boundaries firmly.

Be consistent

It will make life easier for you, your family, your staff, and your patients if you’re consistent in how you manage the split between work and life. If everyone knows that you’re available certain days and absolutely unavailable other days, they won’t be nearly as inclined to put pressure on you as they otherwise might.

Discuss work-life balance with family and staff

A frank discussion of work-life balance can help you navigate many issues which seem difficult at first glance. Your colleagues, your patients, and your family will all understand that you can’t be everywhere at the same time. Instead of trying to figure out everything on your own and carrying every ‘Sorry, I can’t do that’ as your personal burden, work to find compromises everyone can live with.

Learn from failures

You won’t always be able to maintain an appropriate work-life balance. What you can handle may change from day to day, and what your family wants from you may change from day to day, etc. Instead of giving up on maintaining a healthy balance in your life after a few failures, learn from those failures and adjust your planning moving forward.

Just make sure to pay close attention to the difference between an evolving work-life balance and an eroding work-life balance. The former is ideal, while the latter will lead you to a rapid burn-out or any number of other headaches.

Relax at work sometimes

Work-life balance, generally speaking, should favor the life side of the equation. That means that for most people, it’s healthiest to leave work at work AND take plenty of breathers throughout the day. Learning to enjoy a quick conversation about nonsense with your coworkers or patients can be as important as anything else. Aiming for peak efficiency at the expense of your well-being is only going to lower your morale and lead to worse outcomes.

For this reason, physicians ought to consider social compatibility and similar factors when assessing new hires as much as anything else; hating the people you work with is a good way to end up dreading each work day.

Know what you can delegate

It’s vitally important that you learn what you can and cannot leave to other people in the workplace. Being able to trust other doctors, nurses, and support staff to handle their own responsibilities properly will take a massive weight off your shoulders. You simply can’t expect to handle everything on your own and still make it home at a reasonable hour.

To go a step further, if you’re falling behind on work while maintaining a reasonable schedule, the solution is not an unreasonable schedule or the sacrifice of your free time outside of work. A functioning practice doesn’t need you to burn yourself out working late on weekends; if it does, someone is underperforming or you don’t have enough people to delegate to.

Ultimately, work-life balance comes down to learning. Learning your priorities, learning your limits, and learning how to make those two things play nicely together.

Here’s a helpful infographic that you can share with your coworkers or print out to hang at your desk or office.