Physician Work-Life Balance and Doing What You Love

May 28, 2013

If medicine is your true calling, balancing home and work is much easier - even if you hate some parts of your job.

This afternoon, I enjoyed a lazy movie day with my family. We watched “Zookeeper,” which I can’t necessarily recommend to you unless you happen to have young children who enjoy scatological humor. However, like almost all movies, it has a moral and the moral in this case is to be who you are without changing for someone else. The movie tells the story of a zookeeper who takes the advice of the talking animals in the zoo in order to secure the love of his dream woman. Unfortunately, his dream woman wants him to be something other than a zookeeper, which is this guy’s calling and passion. 

 I think this is a part of work-life balance that can easily get overlooked. For those of us in medicine, it is just assumed you are doing what you’ve always wanted to do.  With the numerous years of education, long hours, and multiple sacrifices required of anyone hoping to become a physician, it seems that the obstacles in place are there, in part, to make sure you really, really, really want to do this. However, each of us can probably call to mind some colleagues that ended up in medicine for reasons other than it being their lifelong dream. If you’re not doing what you love doing, then it is going to feel as uncomfortable as a pair of shoes that is one size too small. 

The zookeeper discovered this when he tried his hand as a luxury car dealer. Even though he was financially successful, he did not enjoy what he did and missed his true calling. In the end, he returned to the profession that made him happy. His new dream girl was able to support his job as a zookeeper and shared his passion for animals. 

For our own happy endings, we need to start with honoring our passion. This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing cardiology instead of neonatology. It means honoring those things about your job you love. I personally could do without ever writing another progress note, even though I love to write. However, I love connecting with my patients, delivering bad news when I have to in the best possible way, and partnering with my patients. For other physicians, I imagine they love the challenge of putting a bone back together, interpreting a radiograph exactly the right way, or solving a puzzling diagnosis.

When we do what we love, it makes the professional part of our lives flow. The flow is what provides us with energy, enthusiasm, and the ability to balance competing demands and needs. When we are doing something we don’t enjoy, it is difficult to make any progress. We struggle to take each step and each one feels onerous. Balance is difficult to achieve because of the energy sink that our job tasks become. 

Unfortunately, I cannot stop writing progress notes, just like you can’t stop doing the parts of your job you don’t enjoy. But, I do need to focus on and connect with those parts of my job I do love. The satisfaction I get from doing these parts is what sustains me through those parts I have to do and what allows me to bring my energy home to my family.