Work-life balance is not necessarily about time. It is about finding ways to make sure that your home and work environments do disrupt one another to extremes. Here are some ways to help find balance.
Work-life balance for physicians is often thought of as working less. Given the long work hours and on-call demands that most doctors face, cutting back on work can seem like the most logical way to achieve work-life balance. Yet, for many doctors, working less isn’t necessarily a solution, or the only solution, to correct work-life imbalance.
There are several models of mixing or separating work and life that can help doctors achieve work life balance. But the key is that not every model works for every doctor or for the duration of a doctor’s whole career.
Many doctors find that preventing professional stresses from seeping into non-work hours is the key to achieving work-life balance. Working in emergency medicine, urgent care, or as a hospitalist can give physicians a sense of freedom from work related concerns when not at work. Partnering with trusted providers who are willing to reliably share coverage for patient care during off hours can provide some sense of ‘peace’ for doctors of most specialties.
This type of balance is about separating work from life to allow undivided attention and enjoyment when it comes to family, friends, hobbies, and leisure time.
Other doctors take the opposite approach, fitting work into home life by doing some work at home or by spreading work related tasks hours throughout the day. The idea of working from home is not traditionally compatible with patient care.
Yet some doctors have been able to use strategies such as telemedicine or documenting from home as a means to get work done at flexible times. Documenting patient charts at home can allow for shortened days, although it can result in more overall work due to the inherent inefficiencies of re-logging onto work portals and the need to spend time recalling patient care details from hours before.
Telemedicine, which can be done from home, can bypass driving commute time and may provide the option to tailor personalized flexible schedules that fit into a doctor’s other interests and responsibilities.
Some doctors diversify income streams with a variety of non-patient care approaches. Options can include real estate investing, owning a franchise, or medically related side jobs such as medical legal work.
This approach to work-life balance is based on finding work that uses different skills or that takes place in a setting that is not a clinic or hospital. While most people would consider these non-patient care endeavors to be defined as work, many doctors feel that the low stress, lack of life and death decision making, and relative lack of litigation risk is enough to define these types of activities as profitable hobbies.
For some physicians, work-life balance is defined as retiring early. Doctors who use this approach to work-life balance may save, invest, or develop alternative income streams for the purpose of retiring early, with the goal of enjoying many years without having to work at all.
This definition of balance is based on working hard for delayed gratification, with the aim of achieving complete freedom from financial pressures at an earlier age than that expected of typical retirement.
For the vast majority of physicians, the key to work life balance simply requires a lack of misery at work. Physicians who work in a clinical patient care setting or even in a non-clinical work environment may feel a lack of peace during non-work hours if the work setting is unproductive, even if the time constraints required by the job are perfectly reasonable.
Unless a physician is an expert at controlling personal emotions, factors such as a toxic environment, consistent disrespect, an unclear organizational purpose, or incompetent leadership will prevent most doctors from achieving a sense of work life balance even if they are working very few hours.
Almost everyone knows on a “gut level” that problems at work can lead to work life imbalance, but it can be difficult to leave a secure job. Over time, most physicians who are working in toxic environments eventually achieve work life balance by looking for other opportunities and moving to a different job when the opportunity arises.
Work-life balance is not necessarily about time. Some physicians are perfectly content working long hours, while some opt for reduced hours. But it is when the work environment leads to a lack of inner peace that it disrupts work-life balance. Of course, the same principles hold true for life as well- when the non-working hours are filled with conflicts, the unsettled emotions can also infringe on work-life balance by seeping into the work hours.