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The Unbalanced Work-Life Balance of Physicians

The term “work-life balance” is so commonplace that the Oxford dictionary has decided to permanently include it among its pages. Defined as, “The number of hours per week you spend working, compared with the number of hours you spend with your family, relaxing, etc.”, this phrase is more popular than ever among members of today’s workforce. It’s an elusive chase, to be sure, and it’s one that strikes a significant chord with each and every clinician who chooses healthcare as their professional path.

While the pressures of a clinician’s role have always been extreme, today’s healthcare workers are facing a number of unprecedented challenges. With growing documentation demands, a global pandemic that continues to surge and stress-laden time constraints, tipping the scale towards the “life” side of the work-life balance has become more difficult than ever. Even simple, everyday needs such as sleep, exercise and nutrition are being pushed to the back burner by clinicians in order to keep up with all of the work on their proverbial plates.

According to Peter Angood, M.D., CEO of the American Association for Physician Leadership, “Earlier generations had more patient time, less paperwork, and clear delineation between work and personal life. Then, physicians became overworked, saddled with administrative tasks, hit with huge insurance premiums, and accessible to patients at any hour.”

Ultimately, this never-ending struggle to find the balance between work and life leads to another commonly used phrase among clinicians today: Burnout. According to an article published in the Libyan Journal of Medicine entitled “Burnout Among Physicians,” the alarming side effect of insufficient work-life balance is extremely common among clinicians today.

The study states, “[Burnout] includes emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low personal accomplishment. Burnout among physicians has garnered significant attention because of the negative impact it renders on patient care and medical personnel. Physicians who had more burnout levels reportedly committed more medical errors.”

Today, as more than half of all US physicians experience professional burnout, the domino effect of serious implications has reached beyond the lives of the clinicians themselves and into the lives of patients as well due to the uptick in medical errors. It’s a troubling repercussion that can be easily traced back to the unhealthy work-life balance that so many clinicians are facing today.

How Physicians Can Regain Control

So, what can be done to tip the scale back towards a healthier balance for everyone? For clinicians just starting out, it’s an important topic that needs to be broached from the jump. According to Eric Dickerson, Managing Director and Senior Practice Leader, Academic Medicine, with Kaye/Bassman International in Plano, Texas, “One way to determine if a position offers enough balance is to ask questions during the interview process to understand the culture.” Among the best questions to ask include:

  • What is a typical day like here?
  • What’s the number-one challenge you’re trying to solve by hiring someone in this position?
  • Is this a new role or a replacement role? Why did the previous person leave? Or why is the role now needed?

For clinicians who are already established, scaling back will certainly take some work (wait…doesn’t that defeat the purpose?!), but it can still be done. Everything from setting boundaries—and really sticking to them—to shifting your focus (or even your clinical role) will ultimately pay dividends in terms of your long-term well-being. Take Dr. Khadeja Haye’s word for it. As the National Medical Director for OB/GYN Hospitalists for TeamHealth in Atlanta, GA, she has shifted her focus to ensure she’s also enjoying life outside of medicine.

“Work-life balance is the flexibility to be there for your family, to be there for personal events, to pursue interests outside of work…while still having the opportunity to take good care of your patients,” Haye said.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Since 2007, thousands of physicians have improved their work-life balance by reducing their documentation burden with virtual scribe services from Physicians Angels. Contact Physicians Angels to learn more.

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