Work-life balance for physicians: The what, the why, and the how

Burnout rates and physician dissatisfaction are at an all-time high. Work-life balance is the buzzword answer often cited to solve these problems, but incorporating “life” into a physician’s career is easier said than done.

The Cambridge dictionary defines work-life balance as “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.”

For physicians, the concept of work-life balance is not so straightforward, as highlighted by Siva Raja, M.D., from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, and Sharon Stein, M.D., from University Hospital Case Medical Center also in Cleveland, OH.

“In the three ‘A’s of physician excellence – able, affable, and available – available is often the easiest to perfect,” Dr. Raja wrote.

Defining what work time means is complex in modern medicine. Typical physician duties include patient contact, administrative duties, charting, teaching, meetings, and community outreach activities. And with the addition of mobile technology, work time can easily creep into life time.

Even so, the life aspect of work-life balance is more straightforward. Time outside of work can include wellness needs such as sleep, nutrition, exercise, spiritual pursuits, and interactions with family and friends.

But, as Dr. Raja pointed out, it also includes daily living activities such as household needs, including groceries, laundry, cleaning, and paying bills.

With most physicians working 40 to 60 hours per week and nearly 20 percent reporting 61 to 80 hours each week, after sleep, how easy is it to fit in this elusive “time outside of medicine”? And should all physicians strive for work-life balance, or is a career in medicine incompatible with this concept?

Is work-life balance just hype?

Arun Saini, M.D. – an assistant professor in the Division of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis – described the reasons for physicians seeking work-life balance as varied and personal, in an opinion article published in Frontiers in Pediatrics.