Finding Work-Life Balance for Physicians Usually Means Sacrifice

August 20, 2014

Being able to decide how many days you want to see patients is great for raising kids. But, it can cramp the family budget. How do you balance both?

Which do you need more of - time or money? This is a hard question for many of us to answer, as both may be in short supply. My instinctual answer is always more time, but I do often sacrifice time for money. This is a problem facing me this fall. My work week is four days and I enjoy the day off to run errands or spend time with my family or even just to have time to myself. However, lately my day off seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

In my organization, physicians are paid for the work they do - time off is uncompensated time. Therefore, I enjoy a lot of autonomy and flexibility over how little or how much I want to work. There are certain absolutes - we need to be available to our patients - but for the most part, I can be generous with my vacation time or stingy. It is my choice.

Fall tends to be a very busy time. School is starting and there are CME conferences that are scheduled. Add to this dentist appointments, haircuts, back-to-school events, and the like, and the calendar fills up quickly. So, my conundrum this fall is how much of my time away should I make up by coming in on my days off?

On one hand, I think the time off is valuable for my mental health and my family. On the other hand, I have four kids I will be sending to college in the not-too-distant future. Choosing to run errands and relax rather than earn income seems selfish or unwise. I want to model balance for my family by working and relaxing both. I desire to support my family at the right level - one at which we are comfortable and secure but not at a level where my income becomes the main measure of my success.

This is an issue that is present in many professions. Unfortunately, I think we all say that we prefer time but act as if we prefer money. This leads to a sense of imbalance and conflict. I think both choices are fair. While our profession is a calling and one that we (hopefully) enjoy, it remains a profession and we have the expectation of fair compensation. So, choosing to work for increased income may satisfy your desire to build a bigger retirement nest egg, enjoy the freedom to travel, or donate a larger portion of your income to charity. These are all reasonable goals. On the other hand, for many physicians time is more precious than money. While we may not always spend this priceless commodity well, we usually could use more of it.

So, I remain undecided. I suspect that for many reasons, I will try to make up many of the work days I miss through attending conferences or traveling. However, I also suspect I may end up regretting the amount of family time I sacrifice.