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8 Tips for Physicians to Keep a Better Work-Life Balance

Teresa Iafolla

Written by Teresa Iafolla

With lives on the line and innumerable people, charts, and tasks, vying for physicians’ attention, it’s no surprise that many doctors have trouble maintaining an optimal work-life balance. If you add caring for a family and a social life to that mix, it’s no wonder that physician burnout is so high.

According to a 2012 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, physicians were almost twice as likely to report dissatisfaction with their work-life balance as people on other career paths. A lacking physician work-life balance can lead to burnout, lower quality patient care, stress on relationships at home, and poor physician health.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. While getting to a better work-life balance can seem an impossible task, there are some adjustments you can make to improve things. Here are nine tips for figuring out how to improve your work-life balance as a physician.

1. Schedule personal time to take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Personal time is essential to work-life balance. It doesn’t help anyone if you burn out and run out of energy, mental clarity, patience, or empathy. When you’re away from the office, do the things you need to stay healthy. Try scheduling personal time and sticking to it, like any other appointment.

As for how to spend your “me” time, that’ll ultimately be up to you. You could:

  • Find ways to maintain a healthy diet rather than relying on fast food.
  • Keep up with your sleep.
  • Fit in a quick workout.
  • Take a walk.
  • Read a non-work-related book.
  • Share a family meal.
  • Go on a date with your partner.
  • Play with your kids.

Do whatever it is in your personal life that keeps you healthy and sane away from work. Remember: You can’t provide the best care for your patients if you don’t take care of yourself.

2. Consider working fewer or part-time hours.

While this isn’t an option for everyone, it’s something to consider. Cutting back on your hours will depend on your specialty, patient load, and the way your practice operates. But if you can afford to rearrange your schedule or reduce the number of patients you see each day, simply working fewer hours (even temporarily) could be a huge boost to your work-life balance.

3. Adjust your time on-call.

Depending on your specialty and practice, you may work on-call all or part time, and that can make it hard to switch out of work mode. Reducing or adjusting your on-call schedule depends on how you run your practice and whether any other doctors can cover you. But regularly being on-call is definitely a contributor to an off-kilter work-life balance.

4. Supplement in-office hours with telemedicine appointments.

While you don’t necessarily want to bring your work home with you, sometimes doing a few patient consults from home or another convenient location via telemedicine can help you cut down on hours in the office and maintain balance You may even be able to see more patients in a shorter period of time, which frees up those work hours for other things, such as spending time with family and friends.

5. Take breaks.

Scheduling continuous, back-to-back patient appointments may be necessary at times, but it’s not sustainable. Switching gears from patient to patient can be exhausting, not to mention the paperwork, follow-up, and other responsibilities you might have every day. Build breaks into your appointment schedule, based on when you notice yourself slowing down throughout the day. Even a quick 15 minutes could help you decompress and get back up to your regular speed.

6. Outsource or delegate tasks whenever possible.

Some parts of your practice (especially administrative work) could be taken care of by another staff member, like a physician assistant. When you can, go ahead and outsource or delegate to them. That could be to one of your employees at work, or it could be finding help to maintain balance at home ( like a maid or lawn service). Don’t feel like you have to take care of every task when someone capable can do it for you. Your time is limited and valuable, so make sure you are spending it in the best way possible.

7. Try to be present no matter where you are.

When you’re at home, try not to focus on issues with a patient. When you’re at work, don’t think about struggles at home. Granted that’s much easier said than done. If you’re having difficulty with this, look into meditation and other strategies to help you focus on the present. Staying present ensures you don’t miss out on something important because your mind was elsewhere.

8. Take a few moments each day to remind yourself about the incredible work you do.

Dealing with work stresses day in and day out can sometimes make you forget why you chose this demanding profession in the first place. Sometimes you may need to stop and remind yourself that you are in fact helping people live better lives. Appreciate the incredible work you’re doing. Think about the last patient who thanked you for all you do.

Use these tips to help you reduce stress, avoid burnout, and restore your work-life balance. That can sometimes seem impossible as a hard-working physician, but making a few small adjustments to your work and home life could go a long way.

What do you do to maintain a balance in your life? Let us know in the comments!

Published: November 23, 2015