Work-life Balance Equation for Physicians Adds Up Differently

October 23, 2012

Spending time with colleagues and friends from my past and my present causes me to ponder the various ways people honor their own work-life balance.

I spent last week at my medical society’s national conference. In addition to receiving outstanding CME, it allowed me to catch up with colleagues and reconnect with old friends from residency and previous positions. What struck me were the different choices we all made and the different directions our lives have taken.       

One of my colleagues wrestled with whether to go or not. She needed the CME and very much wanted to attend the conference, but would potentially miss her daughter’s birthday if she went. With some creative scheduling, she decided to attend most of the conference and fly home for her daughter.    

One of the superstars of my residency class remains a superstar, kind of the “most likely to succeed” of our class. He is in a high-profile position and is doing very well. As we discussed our current lives and roles, he made a comment about the late nights and observed that I probably was also busy until 10 p.m. addressing patient care issues. Nope, I told him. I don’t work hours like that. He lives in a place with a minimum of a 45-minute commute wherever he chooses to go. While I wish him well and know that he will continue to excel, I realize his choice could never be mine.

My best friend from residency was there. I haven’t seen her in five years. We fell back into easy conversation and reminisced about our time in the military. Back when we first met, our respective commitments (seven years for me and 12 years for her) seemed endless. But, I remarked that she made it to 2011 and got out - her long-term goal. It reminded me that time does move on and goals are eventually reached.

One of my former colleagues is pursuing his dream of becoming a novelist. Since we share this dream, he took some time to give me some tips and advice on writing and securing an agent and those types of things. He’s single, no kids, so has more time to write than I do, but he admonished me to keep writing because no matter how much time you have, you can still write.

Spending time with colleagues and friends from my past and my present causes me to ponder the various ways people honor their own work-life balance. Many times we have those difficult choices to make - attend a professional event or be home for a family member’s birthday, live in a busy, congested city for an outstanding professional opportunity, pursue a lifelong dream that may be completely different than what you’ve spent a decade training for, or hanging in there long enough to finally be able to do what you want to do.

I think there are as many solutions to the work-life balance equation as there are people who struggle with it, but we can all get there.