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Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Maintaining a Healthy Work-Life Balance

Gretchen Frieling, MDMaintaining the balancing act between work and life isn’t easy, especially as a physician. We consider work-life balance when we choose our specialties and then try to maintain this balance through residency and into our careers.

Many perceive work to be those hours when you are in a physical office: seeing patients, writing prescriptions, updating staff, filling out paperwork—the responsibilities can be endless. It can be hard, whether in private practice (where you are also worrying about additional factors that go into running a business), academia (where you may fret over your students’ comprehension), or elsewhere, to separate daily duties and leave them behind when you step outside of the office. Physician burnout is a serious concern among those in our profession, so we need to evaluate how to best avoid the extra stress. What we have to do is define what work and life mean to us and what is most important among those two. Can they coexist? Can you work while also enjoying life? 

Choosing a career that brings you joy is very important. Most physicians work 40 to 70 hours a week and, in many cases, working even more. If possible, choose to do more of those tasks that remind you why you chose the specialty of dermatology. Find your purpose.

During residency, we are fully aware that the balance will not exist. We give up much of our personal time to learn how to be the best physicians possible. This is exactly why it is that much more important to regain the balance when you complete your training. If you do not, you will be at considerable risk for burnout.

We all have significant demands both inside and outside of work. Here are some suggestions that I find have helped me with this balance:

Prioritize your time.
I have found that balancing work and life responsibilities require efficiency and proper time management. Prioritize what is important to you and act on it. Prioritize your family time and be present (which can mean putting your phone away for a bit to concentrate on your loved ones!).

Take breaks.
While this is understandably difficult with the fast pace of life, taking small breaks can rejuvenate and clear the mind, thereby making you more efficient and productive. I have found taking long weekends with my husband has been rejuvenating and allows us to reconnect without the constant demands at home. To give yourself time to relax, aim to take a long weekend or a small vacation every quarter.

Exercise.
Endorphins make us feel happy and energized. It’s not always fun waking up at 4:30 am to get a workout in, but it is worth it to preserve a healthy mind and body. If you remember to prioritize your time to take care of your own health, you may also be able to fit some exercise in after the office closes!

Be forgiving.
You are only human. There will be good and bad days (or weeks and maybe even months). As a business owner, there was no work-life balance for me for over 1 year. I absolutely loved my business, loved what I was building, and have seen it explode into a full-fledged practice. Fast forward to now, this business has provided much more flexibility in life, allowing me to fully take control of my schedule and focus on what is most important to me.

work life balance

Nourish your hobbies and friendships.
These are things that bring joy and happiness to life. A good hobby can fulfill some of your desires outside of the office, and a good friend can provide the conversation for a good laugh or two.

The answer is not always yes.
This is one of the hardest things I have had to teach myself! I am always inclined to say yes. The fear of missing out, not meeting new people, or missing out on opportunities never ceases to cloud my mind. The moment I learned to say no and embrace it, the weight was lifted from my shoulders. And, suddenly, there was that missed time that I now could spend with my family.

Minimize work once you are home.
It is easy to say I will finish charting at home or I will share that Instagram post at home. But the reality is you will not feel as though you are recovering from your day until you truly disconnect from job responsibilities. Try to save work activities for inside the office, so when you get home, your focus is on relaxation.

Keeping a balance is fluid; it is constantly changing and shifting. It is okay to let your priorities change as you grow in your practice and in life—they most certainly will. What is most important, at least to me, is to keep checks and balances at the front of your mind. We can learn from and help each other. While there is no perfect balance, we can work together to have more healthy, happy, and balanced lives that allow us to be our best selves, both at work and at home. n


Dr Frieling is a board-certified dermatopathologist in the Boston, MA, area.

Disclosure: The author reports no relevant financial relationships.

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