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Is Doctor/Physician Work-Life Balance Dead?

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Is It Worth Being a Physician? 

The pleasure of healing others can seem overshadowed by the responsibility of patient care, and the pandemic has fueled the flame of burnout which has been a systemic issue in the health care environment for too long.

Pandemic and Physician Work/Life

Finding work-life balance seems more complex than ever in the new remote-working environment, and real-time communication drives the bus. While it may feel overwhelming and impossible to avoid the pending burnout, it is possible to find a new way to balance your work-life so you avoid burnout and continue to provide top-notch patient care. 

According to Physician Sense, “the EHR and the smartphone can make any moment a medical moment.” Burned-out doctors no longer escape the influx of calls from patients because they take it home with them. 

Fear has also taken center stage, especially for doctors on the front line who bore the weight of fearing they would expose their children or spouses to the virus. Add to that the same fears of the general population, such as childcare and physician life, can break down those with the most durable stress barriers.  

The Mayo Clinic Proceedings commentary suggested that physicians split their responsibilities into three categories instead of the traditional two categories (work/life). The three categories are others, yourself, and work. 

  • Within the “work” category are job-related responsibilities and tasks
  • Within the “yourself” category are your self-care routine and your purpose
  • Within the “others” category are your loved ones, including your children, spouse, close friends, colleagues, neighbors, volunteer groups- all the important people to you and your career. 

Physician Sense reminds physicians, “It’s helpful to bear in mind that medicine is not simply a job, but a profession. You are and were called to serve the sick.” With that in mind, your patients must be on this list of those important to you, but you are not serving them as a burned-out doctor. It is because they are counting on you that you must take care of yourself. 

Sad doctor standing in hospital corridor
Emotionally Exhausted Physician

Doctor’s Burnout

Evidence from the 2019 Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression & Suicide Report indicates that just over 35% of doctors who worked between 30 and 40 hours per week experienced burnout symptoms, opposed to half of the physicians who worked between 60 and 70 hours per week who experienced burnout symptoms.

Not surprisingly, in the group of physicians who worked over 70 hours per week, over 56% experienced burnout symptoms. The report highlights too many hours as one of the top reasons for burned-out doctors. 

Doctors Burnout Report

What Causes Physician Burnout?

Medscape survey showed the top three contributors to physician burnout as:

  • Paperwork/charting overload
  • Too much time at work
  • Lack of respect from coworkers, including administrators and staff (and everyone in-between) 
Physician Burnout Report

The best medical specialties for an excellent work-life balance

 According to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report 2020, the three best medical specialties for a good work-life balance are public health and preventive medicine, ophthalmology, and orthopedics.  

Worst medical specialties for a work-life balance 

The study shows the three worst medical specialties for a work-life balance are

  • Urology
  • Neurology
  • Nephrology.

Why are some medical specialties better for work-life balance than others? 

The NIH states that physicians from certain specialties often experience and deal with burnout differently, which could explain a more significant portion of burned-out doctors in some specialties than others. 

Is work-life balance hype?

According to the NIH, work-life balance is essential. Over 50% of physicians experience burnout which the NIH defines as “the unintended net result of multiple, highly disruptive changes in society at large, the medical profession, and the healthcare system.”

What is Being Done About Physician Burnout?

Looking at the organizational level, when asked, “does your workplace offer a program to reduce stress and/or burnout,” just over 20% of respondents said they did not know, just over 25% said yes, and 50% said no.

On the individual level, the top three methods physicians use when dealing with stress are isolation, exercise, and talking to friends and family. 

Tips For Finding Your Work-Life Balance

  • Remember your “why”

Remembering why you became a doctor is a fantastic way to stay focused on the right things. According to Medical News Today, “physicians may lose passion or satisfaction with their work because they no longer find meaning in it or have lost sight of its purpose.” 

  • Manage your time well

You would be surprised how much more you can accomplish when you manage your time well. Medical News Today says, “balancing work and life roles requires good time management skills.” 

Time management is only partly about completing things on time and being productive. It includes: 

  • Long-term goal setting

Long-term goals are generally closely related to your career or a specific relationship, etc. 

  • Short-term goal setting

Short-term goals often support a larger goal. 

  • Planning

Once you have short-term goals set, it is time to start planning your month, weeks, and days in a manner that ensures you reach your short-term goals, stay fresh and alert for your patients, make time for self-care, and spend time with your loved ones. 

  • Organizing

Your planning will be more successful if you are organized. Organization can save you from wasted time spent looking for things or completing repetitive tasks. 

Dr. Bryant recommends staying organized with tools like EHR templates, checklists, and batch cooking her family’s meals. 

  • Avoiding energy-draining activities that waste time.

Avoid wasting your time on meaningless tasks that drain your energy.

  • Prioritize your responsibilities

Physicians must prioritize their responsibilities. According to Medical News Today, “among your various responsibilities, it is important to identify what is important to you.” When you know your priorities and their order of importance, you can use that to be a master scheduler.

  • Reassess and reset.

Take the time to reassess and reset your life and work goals, especially during life transitions. For example, when you complete training, have a new baby, lose someone important to you, or accomplish a major goal of which you are proud, take the time to celebrate or mourn and assess what the new development means for your work and personal life purpose. 

The takeaway is to approach work-life balance differently in the new healthcare environment. Ensure you make time for your self-care, personal life, and patient care. Lastly, if you see the opportunity to outsource minor administrative tasks, do so. Avoiding burnout is possible if you stay focused on your purpose and plan for a balanced life.