Physicians Talk About Achieving Work/Life Balance

Each year Medical Economics holds a physician writing contest where it asks physicians to write a short essay on a particular topic. This year’s topic was “How I achieve work-life balance as a physician” and we at were pleased to sponsor this year’s contest.

We know that good work-life balance is key to keeping the country’s physicians happy and healthy, and better at taking care of their patients. Locum tenens can be a great way to alleviate burnout and remind physicians why they went into medicine. Whether taking a single assignment or working it full time, locum tenens can be a great way to experience different practice settings and flex your medical knowledge. Locum tenens is also a great way to earn extra money and add more flexibility into your life.

Medical Economics described the contest:

As a physician, finding time for a personal life outside of the daily pressures of a medical practice can be daunting. Working to improve patients’ health while meeting government and payer regulations, keeping an eye on practice finances and managing a staff often leaves today’s doctors with little extra time or energy. Fortunately, many physicians do find ways to have a fulfilling life both inside and outside of their practice. Share with us your story of how you achieve a satisfying work-life balance and help your peers who may be struggling to reach that goal.

The full contest details and the winning entries can be found in Medical Economics May 25 print edition or on its website.

Here are this year’s essay winners along with excerpts from their winning entries, click on the title to see the full essay:

First Place: Sigrid Johnson MD, MSC, FAAFP

Finding Time for a Personal Life Outside of Medicine

A colleague of mine once told me a practice is like a jealous lover: if you give it a Saturday, it will take it—and Sunday, and nights, and holidays. It will take, take, take, but never give back the time it takes from you. I knew I could fill my empty hours with more clinic time—just call my staff and have them book me up!

“Every patient who comes into my office with concerns about stress in their lives gets a handwritten prescription from me that suggests they take an hour a day alone to recharge their batteries.”

But slowly, I realized that this was not the answer. Yes, there were always notes to do, papers to push, problems to solve at work. But that was not going to make me happy- just busier. It might make me more money, but I wouldn’t have time to spend it. I had to diversify again.

I decided to buy a sailboat and learn how to sail. More than that, I decided I wanted to work toward getting my captain’s license. I started to sail on Wednesdays and also some on the weekends. I also called my dance instructor and asked if we could resume lessons. And I decided this was a good year to focus on my long-neglected piano skills again. I found a good instructor who could help me put some polish on pieces I had learned long ago—Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, pieces I could really put some feeling into on days when healthcare issues became too much or when I missed my children an extra bunch…

Second Place: Jennifer Frank, MD

Work-life Balance: A Laudable-and Laughable-Goal

When I told my husband that I was going to submit a story on the topic of “How I achieve work-life balance as a physician,” he asked me when. “Right now,” I replied. “No,” he said, “I mean when are you going to achieve work-life balance?” When indeed. The simple truth is that achieving work-life balance is like achieving world peace–a noble yet unattainable goal. The best we can hope for is to move in the general direction of work-life balance. Better yet, we can strive toward work-life integration, a much more apt description of what most of us hope to realize.

“Work-life balance is a laudable if laughable goal. It is impossible to perfectly balance the complexities of our lives as if we were completely compartmentalized humans.”

I think of work-life balance as leaving for work on time every morning, being able to eat lunch and departing at 5:30 on the dot every evening. This would mean I have a predictable and manageable amount of work, am able to take care of the personal (eating), and have time for my family, exercise, hobbies and friends. While I’ve had days like that, they are not the norm and probably never will be…

Third Place: Arvind R. Cavale, MD, FACE

My Attempt at Work-Life Balance

I learned early in my life that work-life balance was the most important gift I could give myself and my family. My father’s life ended at age 59, mainly due to his choice to devote most of his life to his business. My mother’s life ended at 50 due to stress related to my dad’s involvement with his business.

Being an immigrant physician in the USA demanded a huge learning curve and double the effort of American grads, just to land a decent job at a reputable endocrinology practice. So when I was offered a position with a well-respected endocrine practice in Philadelphia in 1999, I was overjoyed. Having trained at a busy county hospital, it was a breeze seeing 32 patients on my first day in the practice.

“Ultimately, we all have to realize that true work-life balance is a myth and is usually a product of our definitions. I find solace that when I am away from my core family, I am always with my extended family.”

With time, the daily patient count increased to over 45. It felt great being part of such a busy practice, but by year three, I began to realize I was seeing my wife and son less and less. I was visibly aging too. And, we were expecting our second son.

This baby came into the world four weeks after September 11, 2001, and while admiring the wonder of life, it dawned on me that life could be extinguished in a flicker of a moment. Memories of becoming an adult without my parents’ guiding presence came back to me after a gap of 12 years. I couldn’t let history repeat itself…

In addition to the winning essays, there were many other great stories about physicians and how they achieve work/life balance. We will be sharing some of those essays in upcoming posts. If you are looking for more work/life balance in your life locum tenens may be just for you.
Learn more about how locum tenens works at the story, find out ways to start working locums at resources and test your locums knowledge at IQ.

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