As a mother who had three kids under the age of 5 in addition to a full-time busy Ob/Gyn practice (1/3 call), a house, a husband, and all that goes with suburban life, patients would often inquire how I kept it all together. Sometimes I wondered the same.
There is no magic answer, but maintaining a balance between one’s work and one’s personal life is essential. Here, I’ve shared some tips that have helped me achieve a (mostly) successful work-life balance.
1. Understand and Identify Your Expectations
Our perceptions of work-life balance are as unique as our personalities and dispositions. A workload that may overwhelm one person may be managed easily by another. It is important to understand exactly what our individual expectations of work-life balance are.
Want more tips?
Check out Eighteen Work-life Balance Tips for Physicians on our sister site, Physicians Practice.
2. Manage the Homefront
The home front must be covered by competent, caring, and committed employees. Whether it’s child care, pet care, or home upkeep, without the peace of mind that your loved ones and home are safe, secure, and cared for properly it's difficult to function to one's utmost ability. Child care, pet services, and a house cleaner can be expensive, especially if you need all three, but having peace of mind on the homefront will allow you to be fully present and focused on your patients when at work.
3. Have Backup
Even in the best of circumstances, emergencies, illnesses, accidents, and school closings will happen, and you've got to have a backup person or place you can turn to in a crisis. A laboring patient, the OR, an office filled with scheduled appointments, etc, will not wait or necessarily understand/care about your personal issues, so have a Plan B.
4. Marry a Team Player
Choose your spouse/partner wisely. Make sure he or she is a team player from day one and that he/she understands the demands and expectations of Ob/Gyn. This team approach, when it exists throughout every aspect of your partnership (ie, childcare, household chores), will allow you to not have to split your focus between home and work. Having an understanding and compassionate partner will allow to to be a better doctor.
5. Stress Relief
Find your stress relievers. It’s essential to carve out some personal time almost daily to recharge, even if it's just 20 minutes a day. Whatever your stress relief—yoga, meditation, exercise, music, art, cooking, massage, pedicures—make this a priority. Mine is running, which has the added benefits of cardio-fitness, weight maintenance, alone time, and an endorphin rush. In addition, it's simpler than most sports because it doesn't require anything but a good pair of running shoes. As a busy Ob/Gyn, it's easy to get in the habit of forfeiting me-time to patients and family. But even a short 30-minute jog, for example, can temper your stress and elevate your mood for the day. For myself, many times post-call I would begrudgingly stop by a local track on my way home and get my run in before going home to change and face the kids. Invariably, I would always feel much better afterwards and would greet my family with a smile.
6. Reward Yourself
Plan your rewards/diversions. As responsible practitioners and/or parents, we often feel guilty about taking time away from our patients and our children. However, healthy diversions and a change of pace can bring much-needed new energy to our overall outlook and relationships. For those of you with kids, a good solution to the “guilt” complex (as far as your children go) is to hire a weekend baby sitter that the kids are crazy about. This way, when you have “date night” with your partner, your kids will ask “When are you leaving, already?” instead of "Why are you leaving?" It’s a win-win!
Vacations can be tough to orchestrate (with or without children), but sometimes a long weekend at home or a "staycation” has more benefit than a longer, more elaborate vacation. I inform my patients when I’m taking time off, and they curiously ask me where I'm going. I love when my answer is “home"! This gives your home help (childcare/housekeeper/partner) a break and allows for down time for you and your family. Furthermore, there's no airport security to deal with and other stressful travel hassles.
8. Choose Your Practice Wisely
Be realistic about job, financial, and career-path expectations. Prioritize what motivates you both clinically and personally, and fully understand the commitment and expectations of each available job type so you can find the best fit. There are many options for Ob/Gyns today that allow us to better tailor our needs. With the demise of the 80(+)-hour work week for residents in 2003 by the Accreditation Counsel for Graduate Medical Education, residents have a different work mentality than more senior physicians, which has spilled over into the private sector. There are now more job options to choose from, including laborists, ambulatory care center providers, part-time work, academic appointments, gyn-only practices, large groups with less call, and locum tenens. There is no substitute for good clinical medicine, so don’t abandon your training and skills prematurely. Once you find what suits you best, a healthy work-life balance should follow.