For Work-life Balance, Physicians Need to Make Sacrifices

September 18, 2012

Part of work-life balance is selecting those things that matter the most. Sometimes when you say good-bye to something, however, it really is a final good-bye.

For readers who have followed my blog for a while, you may remember that a few years ago, I resurrected a passion from my youth and started taking ballet classes again. It was a lot of fun, even though I had not done ballet for longer than most of my classmates had been alive. Last summer, I was able to fit a regular ballet class into my schedule and was truly surrounded by teenage ballerinas. It was a humbling experience as my body would no longer do what I wanted it to and certainly couldn’t keep up with my classmates. I decided in the interest of both my hamstrings and my pride to hang up my ballet shoes.

Today, I took a new class at our gym which is a ballet toning class. I think ballet as exercise is in right now, although “in” in Wisconsin may be six months to 12 months behind the rest of the country. Nevertheless, I was surrounded by women closer to my age in this exercise class. It was ballet-like enough for me to feel like I was dancing but gentle enough that I wasn’t in danger of spinning myself into a wall. I loved it. I found something that enables me to do something I still love in a fashion that is more in line with my, dare I say it, age. As I left class with two friends, it was comforting to bemoan our foot cramps and sore shoulders rather than see my classmates don a pair of pointe shoes for their next 90-minute class.

While I enjoyed the class and am happy to have found something that meets multiple needs, it still smarts a little that I am no longer a lithe dancer but instead, a middle-aged mom who happens to still be able to point her toes and plié. Saying goodbye to parts of our past, especially those that we love, is hard.

I’m facing a similar slow-death of my obstetrics practice. As a family physician, I am now in the minority of FPs who still deliver babies. No one I trained with does it anymore and most of my colleagues have similarly given it up for a host of reasons. When I started my job, I had eight OB call partners which is pretty fabulous for family medicine. Now, just 18 months later, I’ve lost three call partners and am due to lose another two in the next year. While I’m not ready to give up OB yet, I’m starting to weigh how much I love delivering babies with how much I love not being on-call more often than once a week.

Part of work-life balance is selecting those things that matter the most. However, the bittersweet part of those choices is that sometimes when you say good-bye to something, it really is a final good-bye. There’s a little grief in putting my leotard and tights in the goodwill bin and a lot of grief in considering the possibility of no longer being part of the birth experience for my patients.

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