When a Physician Lives Where She Works, Sometimes Worlds Collide

February 7, 2012

The convenience of practicing medicine in the same town you live is nice, but I’d like a little more separation between my life as a doctor and my personal life.

One of the ways I try to maintain work-life balance is by dividing things clearly between work and home. Of course, this doesn’t always pan out, but I do much better if I finish my office visit notes at work instead of getting around to them later in the evening at home. I try to keep my time at home as free from work-related interruptions as possible, while recognizing that my job is not “nine to five.” Babies sometimes get delivered at 3 a.m. and patients sometimes need to speak to the doctor on call at 4 p.m. on a Sunday.

I live in a smallish town, which I love. With my job change, I moved from practicing two towns over to practicing in my own town. I’m right down the road from my kids’ school, my church, the local Walmart. I’m seven minutes from my garage door.

Needless to say, I run into friends and neighbors not infrequently in the office. Some come willingly, having purposely selected me as their family doctor. The only apprehension I feel is in trying to live up to the trust they’ve placed in me. Others happen to be seeing me because I’m the doctor who was available when they called for their appointment. And some, who may only know me by first name, are clearly surprised when I walk in the room. Those are the moments that feel awkward. Their own hesitancy or surprise or embarrassment causes me to feel uncomfortable, if only for the discomfort they are clearly feeling. I suspect sometimes they are uncomfortable because they think I am uncomfortable. You get the idea.

I considered this situation recently when I met a new patient. She’s someone I know by sight but not by name. We go to the same gym and sometimes end up in the same exercise class. At her appointment, I walked in and started to introduce myself, but stopped as recognition dawned. I sat down and acknowledged the awkwardness. When I asked if she’d feel more comfortable rescheduling with one of my partners, she gave me a half-smile and shrugged, telling me it was OK.

This part of my life - who I am when I’m not a doctor - is not so easy to separate from who I am when I am a doctor. I imagine over time, I will become increasingly comfortable with juggling these roles back and forth. For now, though, I’d like a little more separation.

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