As I try to sift through countless charts while my newborn sleeps (finally!), the irony is not lost on me that I am tasked with writing about work-life balance.
Nowadays “work-life balance” looks very different than it did before childbirth: a bit more like a tug of war between household chores, sleep and the expectations/realities of the outside world rather than actually preserving wellness. However, I am keenly aware that after the “newborn haze” phase, finding the best possible way to harmonize home and work life will be the key to personal satisfaction and avoiding burnout.
For pro tips on finding work-life balance, I turned to the group of practicing ophthalmologists who are physician mothers, who have been a source of inspiration for me for some time. The advice I received was bountiful, and it works for physician dads too. The most common themes were:
Find Your ‘Why’
“Only do things that you are passionate about and learn to say no,” says ophthalmologist Zaina N. Al-Mohtaseb, MD. “You cannot have work-life balance if you are trying to do everything all at one time.”
This likely rings especially true for those of us who have recently completed residency training. The impulse is to “do it all” in the hopes of gaining more exposure or trying out new things as an attending, but that could result in too many additional commitments, limiting your ability to be fully present for them and your family.
Instead, Nisha V. Shah, MD, referenced the concept of “ikigai,” or the practice of finding or doing what is worth living for — even if that means working fewer hours, but making those hours highly efficient and focusing on living a meaningful life.
Stick to your boundaries and only say yes to things that bring you joy.
Identify Your Passion
Make a list of your priorities. Roni Levin, MD, recalls a colleague telling her that there is time for everything. Don’t feel pressured to do everything now as you have a whole career ahead of you.
Kelly Green, MD, focuses on living a life of richness, where richness is not defined by wealth, but rather that by fulfilling interactions with colleagues, the service of helping others or whatever you feel makes your life richer.
Once you’ve identified those priorities, don’t focus on what you let go of, says Seema Gupta, MD, instead focus on the fact that you have structured your life in the way that brings you the most joy.
Get Help Wherever You Can
Outsourcing tasks that take away from quality time was a popular theme when I asked for work-life balance tips on the Ophthalmology Moms Facebook group (a must-join group if you’re not a member already!).
Amy A. Mehta, MD, reminded us that there are so many people in our lives who could help if we are just willing to ask and receive help: “We all have people in our lives who love us — let them!”
Nicole A. Legare, MD, recommends not just looking at your budget from a financial perspective, but also in the value that certain additions to your budget provide you in terms of time. “Your time as a parent, wife [and] daughter is very valuable. If increasing your financial budget frees up your time, then it is 100% worth it.”
Consider hiring a personal assistant for a few hours a day or few days a week to manage schedules, arrange appointments and help around the house. Lauren W. Yancey, MD, found her personal assistant through a local Facebook group, which also allowed her to help another person in her community. Instead of spending time on time-consuming tasks and duties, she can focus on spending actual quality time with her children.
If it’s possible to hire a nanny or housekeeper, you could support another person’s employment and allow your patients and your family to benefit from a less stressed-out version of you, says Lana M. Rifkin, MD.
Make Work Work for You
Wassia Noor, MD, recommends hiring a scribe when possible — the gained efficiency allows her to be done with work once she steps out the door. Also helpful with efficiency: finishing notes at the time of the encounter and copious use of smart phrases!
Kristin M. DiDomenico, MD, advocates for finding a practice that will give you autonomy to create the schedule you desire. Plus, finding partners who respect each other is critical.
Proactively schedule vacations (for example, every quarter) to either travel or to have down time to catch up. Similarly, ensuring that you have admin time built into your schedule can allow you to have flexibility for rescheduling patients and/or catching up on your own or your family’s appointments. For Sally Primus, MD, that means taking Wednesdays off so she works two days in a row and has time to catch up in between.
“Make your work schedule fit what you imagined your practice would be, so that you can continue to enjoy yourself when you are working,” recommends Megan Scott, MD.
Also, just because we’ve participated in the endless wagon wheel of training and working, doesn’t mean you can’t reevaluate the journey/your trajectory from time to time. Honey H. Herce, MD, shared an important message in this regard: “If something isn't right in your life, no matter how hard you worked to get there or whatever feeling you may to have of letting others down, it's okay to make a change.”
Make Time for Yourself
Several doctors recommended taking scheduled time off and/or carving out personal time into your schedule.
Sarah Durden, MD, schedules her next massage the moment she leaves her current massage. The protected “me time” ensures her ability to operate comfortably in the long run.
Shilpi Pradhan, MD, recommended remembering the hobbies you had before medicine and proactively making time for them.
Make Time for Your Family
Alison Early, MD, makes it a point to focus on her family when she is home. To that end, she finishes charting at work and puts her phone away when she is not on call.
“I spend a lot of time at work focused on something other than my family, so I want to afford them the same focus when I am home,” she said.
Dr. Rifkin summarized it beautifully: “Don’t feel bad about rescheduling patients to be there for your kids’ events. Patients may not remember you in 10 years, but your kids will remember your presence.”
Michele M. Riggins, MD, recommended offering patients alternatives to make it less inconvenient to them (for example, scheduling them in sooner). In a similar vein, Vicki Chan, MD, reminded us that as much as we love our jobs, we are still 100% replaceable — but you are not replaceable to your family.
I’m wishing you the best of luck in your work-life balance journey. … I’m figuring it out right along with you!
Check out the Academy’s physician wellness resources.
About the author: Cherie A. Fathy, MD, joined the YO Info editorial board in 2022. She completed her residency at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and finished her cornea fellowship in 2022 at Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.