Encouraging Our Physician Colleagues' Work-Life Balance Goals

November 19, 2013

As physicians and people, we are all in this together, many of us struggling with the same things.

Last week I went to a leadership-development class. The course involved self assessments and 360-degree feedback and culminated in a personal plan of action to help address a gap in our personal or professional lives that we wanted to change. I learned many interesting things during the week, but was reminded of a profound truth - we are all in this together, many of us struggling with the same things.

I listened to my colleagues - many of whom I was meeting for the first time - as they described their work and home struggles and I found myself nodding along to each story. I also struggle with being my own worst critic and am more challenged to silence my inner voices, which accuse me of not measuring up, than I ever am by a colleague or patient telling me so.

As important as I find exercise to be, I still struggle to fit into my normal day. As a working mom, I feel the guilt that comes with not mothering my children through each step of their day, even though I have a fantastic partner in my stay-at-home husband. I also try, usually unsuccessfully it seems, to balance my profession and my faith. Each story and struggle and action plan tugged at me as I found myself identifying with the burdens and challenges that are so very common to us all.

It is essential as we seek work-life balance to share our goals and needs and dreams and struggles with our colleagues. This is definitely not what we learned in medical school. Back then, I was rewarded for having no outside life - that way I could stay and work longer hours. No one asked, or seemed to even care, whether I had any type of balance. Now, I look for that support from colleagues and I hope that I give it in return. We should be reminding each other of the importance of family, our own health and well-being, limiting the multiple demands on our time. We should be able to share with each other our goals whether that's to fit in exercise before clinic each day or to make it to date night with our spouse. More than just sharing these goals as wishful, "wouldn't it be nice" kind of ideas, we should hold each other accountable and kindly encourage those goals. 

It is up to each of us to create the environment in which we live and work. Just as we advise our patients about healthy behaviors, we should similarly support our colleagues as they attempt to obtain work-life balance and prioritize those things that make their lives hum. While that's easier to do when dedicated time allows the conversation to occur, as it did for me last week, I realize that I still have the power to encourage others and ask for support in return in between patients and meetings.