Work-Life Integration for Physicians

April 21, 2015
Jennifer Frank, MD

Desire to succeed at work can easily eclipse family obligations. But this physician found a way to integrate both goals into her life.

While I was preparing a talk on work-life balance, I stumbled across a 2014 article in Harvard Business Review by Stewart Friedman. It is worth reading for all those in search of work-life balance, although he argues that the whole idea of balance is the wrong way to approach the issue. Mr. Friedman articulates the concept of work-life integration: instead of viewing yourself being pulled in different directions (work, family, self), you consider how the various parts of your life overlap and integrate.

In the article, he describes several different exercises that can help you consider your own ability to integrate the personal and professional arenas, as well as identifying the skills you will need to achieve improved integration. What I like about his method is that there is not a "one size fits all" approach in which it is verboten to check e-mail at the dinner table or zone out on your morning commute. Instead, he challenges his readers to experiment, test, and explore what works best for each individual.

So, over the past week, I've been considering my own work-life integration. Truthfully, it still feels like a balancing act rather than a friendly merger. However, by using some of his exercises, I can report a recent success. In January, I changed from a primarily clinical to a primarily administrative/leadership role in my organization. One thing I failed to consider as carefully as I should have was the time demands for "after-hours" meetings and events. With young children at home, I am fiercely protective of the dinner time to bed time window. As a physician, I am used to being at work late or being called back to the hospital, but these demands somehow feel better than skipping dinner just to attend a meeting. Patient care can occur at all hours, meetings shouldn't.

My promise to my family and myself was to limit my late evenings to once a week. However, I started the month of April with seven or eight requests already and became concerned about my ability to be professionally and personally successful. I started with a heart-to-heart with myself. Truthfully, my amazing stay-at-home husband could handle it if I was away from home more often than just once per week. While I was concerned about childcare/homework/bedtime items, I knew that it was more than that. The fact is, I love my family and enjoy spending time with them. Even if it is just being silly around the dinner table or watching DVDs of old 80s sitcoms that my kids love now as much as I did then, that time can be the best part of my day. I am not willing to give it up, even for career advancement.

I concluded that my first resolution was the right approach - a maximum of four evenings per month. Next, I reviewed the invitations and requests on my time and determined that I needed to both prioritize and strategize, first on my own, and then with my boss. I am happy to say I was successful on both fronts, and now feel that I am achieving a balance between professional and family demands.