Supporting Physician Colleagues in Work-life Balance

August 26, 2014

It is easy to view life from your own circumstances, but chances are your colleagues are experiencing challenges too. Don't forget to reach out.

I was at a call-group meeting last night and overheard two colleagues discussing a call-switch arrangement they made with each other. One jokingly said to the other that she would be happy to be the one taking the extra call in a few years when her own children were older and out of the house, and her colleague's baby was old enough to have all the extra-curricular activities that she'd need to arrange her schedule around. I marveled at the great relationship and understanding these colleagues developed.

One key to work-life balance is having colleagues who can support you. We all expect to be supported in those moments of crisis - a death in the family or a personal illness. However, can you also count on your colleagues in the non-crisis moments when you just want to get to the soccer game or the school play? While we all say we value time with our families, sometimes we don't exactly walk the walk. It is easy to get frustrated with a colleague who is not making the same sacrifices we have (grudgingly) made ourselves.

Medicine is often a stressful profession. We make decisions that can cause great harm - and sometimes do. We are under time constraints and increasing pressure to improve our quality while decreasing cost and providing exceptional customer service. Add to the mix the demands of a busy family or personal life and physicians can easily become overwhelmed. Few people are able to think rationally or calmly or be generous with their time or energy when overwhelmed.

In your average physician group, there are usually different ages, family and personal situations, priorities, and styles. Some groups are able to balance these differences in a way that supports the individual circumstances of each member. Some struggle to encourage colleagues to engage in some pre-determined "right way." I think of a local practice that has a difficult time getting the female physicians who have young children to early morning meetings. There is an unspoken rule or understanding in the call group that the workday takes precedence over family needs and demands. Since their colleagues disagree, the attendance of the meetings is weighted toward those able to attend the early morning meetings.

Ideally, physician groups function like the example I started this blog with - colleagues who understand that there is a natural give-and-take rhythm to the pace of each of our lives. Sometimes we have the capacity to be generous with our time and sometimes we are the ones who need someone to help us fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, some groups choose to stay in their respective corners bemoaning the lack of understanding of those who have different priorities or life circumstances.

I encourage my readers to look at their colleagues and identify ways that you can assist or support them. Chances are, you'll have opportunity to request the same support at some point in the future.