Physician Work-Life Balance: A How-To Guide for New Doctors

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Today’s generation of young professionals are increasingly interested in the idea of “work-life balance.” They care about their careers, but they also care about how their jobs affect quality-of-life outside of the workplace.  For young physicians who are emotionally and financially invested in their first jobs, finding a work-life balance can be especially challenging.

Fortunately, even as a new doctor, there are steps you can take to establish positive habits and routines for your personal life. It’s not always easy: you’ll have to be prepared to ask for help, plan ahead, and be your own advocate. Nevertheless, establishing a healthy work-life balance is critical to your long-term health, success, and happiness. 

Take your free time seriously

A positive work-life balance allows physicians to protect their own health and maintain strong professional performance. With grueling schedules and large patient volumes, it is not easy for doctors to step away from their work. However, an “all-work, no-play” lifestyle increases the risk of physician burnout. 

According to Medscape’s 2019 National Physicians Burnout & Depression Report, more than 40% of physicians experienced burnout last year. Burnout is characterized by adverse psychological and physical symptoms caused by prolonged occupational stress. Unlike manageable levels of work stress, burnout can leave physicians feeling utterly fatigued and unable to bounce back even after rest or time-off. Physician burnout can lead to serious health problems, increased risk of accidents, and poor quality of care.

Whenever you feel pressure to overcommit, overwork, and overachieve, remember this: free-time is not a frivolous luxury; it’s a necessity to protect your quality of life. 

Learn to say “No.”

Whether a coworker is asking for a big favor or a patient wants you to extend your hours, there comes a time when you need to say, “no.” This can be especially difficult for physicians, who tend to be high-achieving people-pleasers. In spite of this, you need to be able to say, “no” to low-priority commitments in order to make room for the important things in your life. 

When you have to decline a request, try framing your response with “I don’t” rather than “I can’t.”  For example, say “I don’t work late on Thursdays” rather than “I can’t work late tonight.” Research has found that people are more likely to continue to argue or plead with an “I can’t” excuse rather than an “I don’t” statement. When you say “I don’t do that,” you are politely communicating a personal conviction that is not up for negotiation. 

If you say “yes” to every request in your personal and professional life, your free time will disappear before you know it. Of course, there are certain obligations that you may not have the leeway to decline. Nonetheless, learning how and when to say “no” can help you set healthy boundaries around your personal time. 

Don’t be afraid to ask (and pay) for help

The only way to create more free-time in your day is to shorten your to-do list. The less time you spend on chores, the more time you will have to spend doing what you love. Services that can help you save time on common tasks and errands include:

  • Meal-kit delivery
  • House cleaners
  • Handyman services
  • Grocery delivery
  • Travel agents
  • Personal assistants

Physician Focused offers physician-specific personal assistant services to help doctors tackle their to-do lists. With Physician Focused, a personal assistant is just a text, call, or email away whenever you need a hand. Whether you need help finding a nanny, shopping for gifts, scheduling appointments, or even just handling a parking ticket, Physician Focused can help. Learn more or sign up for three hours of free personal assistance here.

Prepare to negotiate 

As a physician, your employer wields enormous control over your work-life balance. If your current workload and schedule leaves no room for your personal life, it may be necessary to revisit expectations with your employer. 

At an appropriate time (i.e. a new job offer, contract renewal or performance review), it is perfectly normal to negotiate for improved scheduling factors such as: 

  • Adjusted call hours
  • Increased support staff
  • More PTO
  • Adjusted productivity benchmarks
  • Tele-medicine options

Depending on your preferences, you may want to ask for more time-off to go on trips with friends or reduced evening hours so you can have regular family dinners. If your employer cannot adjust your schedule, consider asking for more support staff to help share the workload. A professional contract review can help you prepare for negotiation and understand how your contract compares to industry norms.

Conclusion

As a physician, finding time for yourself can be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, it’s imperative for doctors to preserve and value their time away from work. To learn more about budgeting and negotiating for your ideal work-life balance, talk with an advisor today.

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