10 strategies to enrich physicians’ lives

July 10, 2017

Kahlil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” In our profession, work is, in fact, sacred. As we cannot give what we do not have, ensuring our needs are met in healthcare is not selfish. It is necessary.

As I write, I’m on a one-day sabbatical. I’m spending my day off doing what nurtures my soul and refreshes my spirit: A brisk walk. Candles lit. Music playing. Aaaaah

Such mornings used to be rare for me. After a demanding year as chief resident, I served as a military physician and then joined a busy practice while remaining active in my community. At the seven-year mark, I felt like my Air Force uniform-fatigued! Every day I battled insurance companies, electronic health records (EHRs) and exhausting inefficiencies.

It took years to build up the courage to step off the treadmill of my medical life and finally exhale. I left the exam room for a season and my life changed drastically. Playgrounds replaced the doctor’s lounge, and I traded my stethoscope for infant toys and diapers. It was glorious. For the first time, I was mom first, and somehow I felt more human.

When I rejoined my old colleague some time later, my clinical skills were intact, and I knew myself better. I reordered my priorities and took steps to ensure the practice of medicine stopped running my life. As I learned to cultivate the heart of service that led me to our profession, I experienced a deeper sense of meaning. While it’s a journey that needs constant attention, the following 10 strategies have helped me take charge of my life and maintain work-life balance. 

Flip it! Yes, flip it. I call it life-work balance to remind myself that work is a part of life, not the other way around. After you flip it, ask yourself the important questions: Who am I? And, then: Why am I here? Then make your life answer those questions brilliantly, using your gifts to bless the world.

Align what you do with what you value. As you take charge of your schedule, make sure your priorities guide your planning. Consider three critical starting points:

 

Know your values. What matters to you deeply? What are some “non-negotiables” in your family life, relationships and work?

Know your limits. Set boundaries and enforce them consistently, at work and in your “bigger life.” Practice saying no with grace and without guilt, understanding that boundaries are a sign of health, not weakness.

Know your goals. Where do you want to be in one, three, five and 10 years? And what must you do now to advance toward those goals? (Schedule it.)

Own your time. Turn your calendar into a friend that helps you manage your energy and effectiveness in 24-hour blocks. Start with the basics that lead to healthier workdays. Schedule ways to nurture and strengthen: 1) your body (get enough sleep, train for a 5K, join a Zumba class), 2) your mind (read a new book or enroll in a course), 3) your soul and spirit (outdoor walks, worship, service), and 4) your relationships (weekly dates, handwritten notes, a camping trip). As your chosen activities become a regular part of your monthly plan, you will do more of what supports your best self.

Be proactive. Few things cause more stress than passivity paired with incongruence between who we are and what we do. Consider these two examples:

1. Do you value punctuality but always run late in an inefficient office? The chronic frustration this creates feeds burnout, whereas being proactive energizes. Problem solving with your team can bring you closer together, increase buy-in and restore congruence and peace to your days.

 

 

2. Do you value spending time with patients but rarely have enough time with them? Simple timesaving strategies can help you reclaim more than an hour each day. Consider these opportunities for greater efficiency:

• Enlist your IT team to optimize charting based on your needs and strengths (e.g., using system templates vs. creating your own, learning shortcuts).

• Find or create handouts or videos for frequent procedures and patient education.

• Incorporate short team huddles to plan each day proactively, anticipating needs and allotting more time for challenging visits.

• Delegate appropriate non-clinical tasks to your team.

• If you’ve tried everything and still loathe your EHR, hiring a scribe could change your life.

Lead your team. Most physicians are driven go-getters, which is a gift and a liability. My military “flight” (my team) became more effective when I learned to trust and empower them. When you lead with humility and mutual accountability, delegating appropriately, the work is lighter and a spirit of community flourishes. Pursue opportunities for leadership training for all leaders in the practice (including you!), and recognize your staff for a job well done. Growing together is inspiring, motivating and fun.

Invest in relationships. Do the special people in your life know how much you appreciate them? If you’re not sure, decide today to prioritize relationships. Plan a recurring date lunch or night with your spouse or significant other. Set aside more quality time with your children. Call your parents and seek their counsel as needed. Schedule that trip with your college friends you’ve postponed for years. Whatever will nurture those special relationships, schedule it and do it.

Prioritize your needs. Treat yourself like you treat your best friends (as long as you’re kind to them!). Take breaks throughout your workday, close your eyes and rest your mind. Pause to prepare before seeing your next patient. Eat an apple instead of chips; drink water rather than soda. Minimize haste and add some margin into your days. And for goodness sake, use the restroom when you need to go.

Pursue financial freedom. Debt is an obstacle that keeps physicians stuck, unable to pursue their dreams. A journey to greater life-work balance often means realigning your values, goals and finances. Meeting with a financial adviser or enrolling in a course can jumpstart your future. Such planning enabled me to steer my career beyond relying on my clinical skills toward using all my gifts (writing, speaking, consulting, coaching, leading retreats). This expanded my financial horizon, and I feel much more fulfilled.

Maya Angelou said, “Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” Be intentional as you spend and save, and make your finances work for you.

Spend time with people who bring out the best in you. In medicine, this also means avoiding negativity, constant venting and demeaning conversations. Nursing stations and medical halls can house pessimism and heaviness. Don’t park there! Instead, find colleagues who help you grow as a leader and as a more whole human being. And seek opportunities to mentor others, which will add purpose and meaning.

Kahlil Gibran said, “Work is love made visible.” In our profession, work is, in fact, sacred. As we cannot give what we do not have, ensuring our needs are met in healthcare is not selfish. It is necessary.