You graduated from medical school and often spend your days solving complex medical riddles. However, there is one riddle that many physicians are unable to solve, and it is hurting their career. Solving the physician work-life balance equation is one of the greatest challenges faced by medical professionals today. A study on doctor burnout conducted by the Mayo Clinic found that more than half of the physician respondents indicated that they are experiencing burnout to varying degrees. Even more concerning is the fact that the results of the study show that burnout is worsening from a similar study conducted in 2011.
As a physician, there have undoubtedly been times when your inner voice has questioned why a patient would continue to act in a way that is harmful to their overall health, like smoking for example. The same can be said for physicians who ignore the tell-tale signs of burnout. Let’s examine ways that physicians can begin to achieve a healthier work-life balance.
Recognize When You Have a Problem
The most important action you can take is to recognize that you are suffering from burnout. As with any challenge, the earlier you diagnose it as a problem, the better your chances are in overcoming it. Ignoring the problem is never good advice, and when you weigh the costs, the reasons are clear. As your work life imbalance grows, so does fatigue and stress levels leading to ever compounding problems. Deciding to do something about creating balance before making a critical mistake in your life or career is your all-important first step.
Imagine What Work-Life Balance Looks Like
If you are like millions, you have read the late Steven R. Covey’s famous book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Habit #2 fits perfectly into how you can create the work-life balance you are looking for, ‘Begin with the end in mind!’ Only you can sit down and describe what your ultimate balanced life will consist of. Create a list of things that you would do if you had more control over your work schedule. Write down what makes you happy and what you want to spend more time doing, then save that list so you can revisit it often.
Begin Exerting Control over Your Schedule
While not easy, it is important for physicians to understand what they are spending their time on. Write down (or at least pay close attention to) your daily tasks over a period of time. Then you can determine what is necessary and what isn’t. Once you have developed a better understanding of where your time is spent, go through the process of removing or delegating things that you are doing that doesn’t require your medical degree. Use a daily calendar and force at least one or two periods of time that are dedicated to things you want to do. Even if it is 15 minutes of sitting outside under a tree. The “what” is not important, your time is.
Your Time Is Sacred
When you are with a patient, that time is considered sacred. Everyone knows that interruptions and distractions are unacceptable unless it is a true emergency. When you are not at work or on personal time, treat yourself the same way! When you have time off or are not on duty, make sure your staff knows that you are not to be disturbed unless it is an emergency situation. You deserve to have that time to relax and be present while doing things you enjoy with friends and loved ones.
Accept the Things You Can’t Change
Timeless adages became that way because they are the accepted truth. Everyone expresses frustrations in their job, some more than others. If you find yourself being frustrated with things beyond your control, such as the healthcare system, then you are only sapping your own energy. Think about the mantra “Accept the things you cannot change, but change the things you can.” This can apply to your career when you are trying to achieve work-life balance. Change the things about your current situation that will help you improve your balance, including moving past lingering frustrations. There may come a time where you realize that your current situation will never be conducive to achieving the balance you seek. If you reach that point, it is probably time for you to begin changing that which you have control over. There are countless opportunities for physicians and employers who are just as interested in your achievement of personal balance as you are.