Gain Work-Life Balance by Using Best of Parenting, Practicing Medicine

June 10, 2014
Jennifer Frank, MD

It's possible to balance things as a physician at work and home more by bringing the best parts of each to the other location.

Yesterday was a beautiful summer day. My husband took our four children to a local amusement park and the zoo. When we met up at home at the end of the day and I asked him how everything went, he told me sheepishly that they had a great day. I was disappointed, of course, that I couldn't join them for the start of summer vacation. However, by this point in our family journey, both my stay-at-home husband and I recognize that some days it's better to be the stay-at-home parent and some days it's better to be the one headed off to work.

An article titled "The Daily Escape" from the June 3 Wall Street Journal described the comparative stress levels with being at work compared with being at home. The hypothesis is that work demands, while they can definitely be stressful, may be more contained and it may be easier to set boundaries around them. Just think about a toddler who needs to go to the bathroom right now compared with a patient requesting to be seen right now. Which one can usually wait just a minute?

Other benefits of work over home can include a paycheck, appreciation and affirmation, and the ability to develop your skills and advance in your career. Home does provide its own benefits - you get paid in kisses and snuggles, a sincere thank you from a three-year-old is more rewarding than an insincere thank you from anyone else, and parenthood challenges you in ways you are challenged nowhere else. Interestingly, women may be particularly prone to the "happier at work" phenomenon, possibly because they may share a disproportionate amount of the household chores and childcare responsibilities, according to the article.

So, what's the solution? Everyone should work longer, harder, and farm out more home-related tasks to others? Probably not. Instead, the author of this article makes a great suggestion: Use the good parts of work at home.

One thing I'm able to do at work better than I do at home is prioritize tasks.  When I have a patient scheduled for an appointment, she is the most important thing I have to do for those 20 minutes, barring an emergency. Phone messages, refill requests, and e-mails all are deferred while I take care of that patient. Of course, there is the occasional urgent phone call from another doctor that I need to take, but for the most part, everyone in the office understands not to knock on a closed exam room door.

In comparison, my current most difficult task at home is getting my four year old to bed in a reasonable timeframe. This job is made more difficult by the constant interruptions from my other three children. Recently, I declared that while I was putting him to bed, I wanted no other interruptions until I was done unless there was an emergency (loosely defined as visible blood). This helped me to focus on the task and to prevent interruptions.

It's possible to balance things at work and home more by bringing the best parts of each to the other location. What works well at home that you can incorporate into your workday? What parts of work give you particular satisfaction and how can you bring that home?