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Doctors and Work-Life Balance: Is It Possible to Put Yourself First?

work-life balance

The health benefits of a positive work-life balance are discussed regularly. Not only can a balanced life have a positive impact on our mental health, it can complement our physical health too.

With numerous studies suggesting stress can worsen everything from migraines and depression to heart problems and diabetes, medical professionals have long informed patients of the powerful health benefits of happiness. However, thanks to long hours, demanding schedules, and high-pressure situations, far too many doctors are failing to take their own advice.

Many doctors struggle to balance their professional commitments with their personal lives. Eating well and exercising regularly falls down on the list of priorities, friends’ weddings can be missed, and children are often asleep by the time their life-saving parent returns home. And with medical students often juggling university classes with placements and exams, the long hours start years before doctors become qualified.

Some argue that, in order for patients to receive the best care, this is simply the way things have to be. In fact, in an article in the New York Times, U.S doctor Karen Sibert argued that: ”you can’t have it all” if you’re a doctor.

While it’s important for everyone from nurses to GPs to immerse themselves in the world of medicine and continuously provide a high quality service to patients, it’s equally vital to maintain a good work-life balance too. So how can this be achieved? Let’s take a look at how you can manage a hectic workload without sacrificing valuable time with your loved ones:

Take your own advice

If a patient was displaying signs of stress and this stress was having a detrimental impact on both their mental and physical health, you’d probably recommend they take time off work or find ways to keep stress to a minimum. So why do so many doctors struggle to do this themselves?

Taking time off without much notice is rarely a possibility for those working in medicine, but it is possible to make the most of the time when you’re not in work.

Spend time doing what you love

Keeping up with industry research is an important part of working in medicine, but you can’t read every single article or memorise the findings of every single study. In order to care for your own health, the health of your family, and the health of your patients, you’re going to have to put yourself first from time to time.

When you’re not working, take every opportunity to do things you love. Spend time with your children, exercise at least 3 times a week, and take a holiday when you’re able to.

Contemplate what you want your future to look like

Maintaining a good work-life balance can be particularly difficult if you had to specialise early in your career and this specialty no longer suits your lifestyle or dreams for the future.

Think about what you want your future to look like both in career terms and outside of work. Write down where you’d like to be in 5, 10, and 15 years’ time and then think about what you need to do to get there.

Perhaps you could have a career change and focus on a different area of medicine, relocate to a different hospital or surgery, or strive for a promotion in your current role.

Consider a career as a locum GP and experience the freedom that comes with travelling to different surgeries and working at times that suit you.

While it may not seem like it at first, achieving a positive work-life balance in a medicinal field is certainly achievable. There are career opportunities out there that offer flexible working options whether that involves early starts, late finishes, compressed hours or term-time only contracts.

Seek support

If you’re struggling to manage your current work-life schedule, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to friends, family and colleagues and see if there are any ways they can help. Asking for help isn’t admitting defeat. It can make you stronger, happier, and able to offer even better quality care to patients.

Remember: A positive work-life balance is good for everyone

Working in medicine can be an extremely rewarding career. No two days are the same, you can achieve a sense of satisfaction, and your work is truly meaningful. However, having invested so much of your life and career into the profession, it’s easy to start feeling guilty for taking time out.

When doctors are overworked and spread too thinly, quality of care can decrease and problems can arise. It’s clear to see that a well rested doctor is a better doctor. You have to look after yourself before you can care for others effectively.