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Either/Or: Why Must We Settle When Struggling to Achieve Balance?


Perhaps it is time to look at balancing work-life issues in a more creative manner rather than forcing physicians into either/or decisions.

As a family physician practicing obstetrics, I face an ongoing challenge to my work-life balance. Getting up in the middle of the night when you’ve spent the last three nights up with a sick baby, or getting the call just as you’re about to head home so your spouse can head out to a meeting are times when delivering babies seems too intrusive. However, this is balanced by the relatively rare times that a delivery truly disrupts life and the joy that I feel participating in this wonderful life event.

Many of my colleagues have given up OB. Some last delivered a baby as a third-year resident, while some made the choice after decades. Most of my colleagues cite work-life balance as the reason why they decide to no longer pursue OB.

I was discussing this issue with a colleague, who herself stills does OB, at a Labor Day barbeque. A physician we both know is giving up OB, citing too much time spent away from home. We were brainstorming ways that he could still do OB, which he loves, but not have it be such an overwhelming part of his clinical life. During the same barbeque, I was speaking to a friend who is a business consultant, and I shared with her my thoughts that many companies and academic departments are really not well versed in how to assist their most valuable assets, their employees, in creating a harmonious balance of personal and professional demands.

Too often these issues are distilled into an “either/or” dichotomy that is artificial. Often the choice isn’t truly either incorporating OB into clinical practice or giving it up. Instead, the choice can be approached creatively, flexibly, and thoughtfully to develop a balance that allows for all or most of the important things in both the professional realm and the personal realm to be honored.

This is different than the idea of having it all. Obviously, there are limits to what any one of us can choose to do. However, I also think we too often give up, choosing the either/or from a place of frustration with our inability to do it all or to achieve a balance we crave.

This approach too quickly limits choices and forces people into uncomfortable boxes that are unnecessary and not in the best interest of the employer, patients, or the physician. I think instead of considering these choices either/or, they should be considered as how?

For more on Jennifer Frank and our other Practice Notes bloggers, click here.


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