A Step-by-step Guide to Physician Work-Life Balance

For most physicians, medicine is more than just a career: it’s a calling. However, being passionate about your profession can come as a double-edged sword. On one hand, your work is extremely stimulating and fulfilling. On the flip side, it can be difficult to set healthy boundaries between work and the rest of your life. Especially when patients are relying on you for life-saving care.

Many millennial physicians feel intense pressure to put all of their time and energy towards the demands of work.  Even as their health, happiness, and personal relationships suffer. The good news is, it is still possible for young doctors to achieve a positive work-life balance. If you’re feeling overburdened by your personal and professional responsibilities, try out these steps to regain your balance:

Step 1: Identify your priorities

When you feel like you have too many commitments, roles, and responsibilities on your plate, it’s time to reexamine your priorities. Ask yourself questions like:

  • “What makes me happy?”
  • “What helps me recharge?”
  • “What time do I need to nurture my interpersonal relationships?

Work-life balance is not about “having it all.” It’s about preserving time for the activities and relationships that are most important to you. Would you rather have enough PTO to take regular vacations or keep your evenings free to be with family and friends? Can you afford to decrease your income in exchange for a shorter work week?

Activities like fitness, spending time in nature, travel, cooking, and even just watching TV can be crucial for doctors to reconnect with themselves. As well as take space from work. Fortunately, many of these activities can be combined or used as opportunities to socialize with loved ones. If you decide that fitness, being outdoors, and socializing are pillars of your personal life, consider activities like weekly trail runs or hikes with a friend. Conversely, if you decide that cooking and watching TV are not critical parts of your valuable personal time, consider subscribing to a meal kit service. For example, you can save time on food prep or cancel streaming subscriptions to avoid wasting time in front of a screen.

In the end, there still may not be enough days in the week to squeeze in everything you would like to do. However, establishing your personal and professional priorities can help keep you on the right path as you decide where to invest your time and energy.

Related: Physician Employee Benefits: Paid Time Off (2020)

Step 2: Practice saying no.

Many young physicians strongly identify as overachievers and take pride in juggling a multitude of roles and responsibilities. They set themselves apart during undergraduate, medical school, and residency by working longer and harder than others around them. And they relish accepting every new challenge that comes their way.

Unfortunately, as older physicians can attest, this mentality is simply not sustainable. As doctors age, their personal responsibilities tend to increase and their stamina for stress and sleep deprivation tends to decrease. It’s at this point that many physicians realize they do not know how to say “no.” 

Whether you’re being asked to take on extra work responsibilities, meet unreasonable patient requests, or commit to new social obligations, physicians have to be able to say no. And practice makes perfect. Here are few example responses to firmly, respectfully decline a request.

  • “No, I can’t take on another commitment at the moment“
  • “Thanks for asking, but I can’t this week.”
  • “I don’t work late on Thursdays.”

It can be difficult for habitual people pleasers to feel like they are letting others down, but remember: When you say no to one thing, you are protecting your time say yes to something else.

Step 3: Let go of the small stuff

Once you have established your work-life priorities and feel confident in saying “no” to optional obligations, you may still have to create more room in your schedule. Identifying who can help you with simple tasks both at work and at home is a good way to free up time for more important obligations.

Take any opportunity to delegate work responsibilities when possible. Anything on your to-do list that doesn’t require your medical degree, you can likely find someone else to take care of. Hiring help to clean your house or mow your lawn can allow you to enjoy more of your time at home. There are also a number of apps, such as TaskRabbit or Instacart, that allow you pay someone to run simple errands, help with home projects, or pick up groceries.

Hiring a personal assistant is also a highly effective investment to cut down your workload. Physician Focused offers scalable personal assistant services specifically for doctors, with a reliable team of assistants nationwide. Find the perfect helping hand for your Christmas shopping, dinner plans, babysitting, or travel coordination with just one text message. Learn more or start your free trial here.

Some physicians hesitate to invest in help for simple tasks, but for many doctors, time is a more scarce resource than money. At the end of the day, you have to find places to let go of responsibility before you can add something new to your plate.

Step 4: Negotiate for what you need

If you’re reading through these steps, and thinking “easier said than done,” that is completely understandable. Employers wield a tremendous amount of control over their employees’ work-life balance, and many doctors do not have the flexibility to reduce their work responsibilities.

To increase the control you have over your work, take advantage of opportunities to negotiate your role. Initial contract offers, contract renewals, and performance reviews are all appropriate times to negotiate your work expectations. While many physicians focus their negotiations on increased compensation, you can also ask for more support staff, adjusted call hours, or increased PTO.

In the event that your employer is wholly unresponsive to your requests, this should give you serious pause. Not only is it unethical to ask employees to sacrifice everything for their work, but physician exhaustion and burnout have seriously negative effects on patient care. If your employer completely prevents you from making reasonable adjustments to your work-life balance, it may be time to start looking for other jobs.


For busy physicians, “work-life balance” will probably never mean “constant perfect harmony between every obligation in your life.” In reality, the balance will constantly shift based on dozens of small daily decisions, and some weeks will be better than others.

By practicing these steps, physicians can create positive habits to maintain control over their work, social, and personal time. As difficult as it may be, positive work-life balance is always a goal worth striving towards. A well-balanced schedule is essential to the health, happiness, and efficacy of physicians both in and outside the workplace.

Contact Physicians Thrive now to learn more about how contract review can help you succeed.

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