Nearly a quarter of U.S. physicians work between 61-80 hours per week. That leaves somewhere between 107-88 hours for sleeping, eating, and—hopefully—having a life. Of course, the demands of medicine, family, and biology often take precedence over the things that bring doctors joy. This is not without consequences.
Though physician burnout has declined, it’s still an issue. The latest data from the American Medical Association show that 43.9% of U.S. physicians exhibited one burnout symptom in 2017. In 2014, the figure stood at 54.4%. Creating a better work/life balance is an effective way of pushing these burnout statistics even lower.
Getting a life might seem like a monumental task, but there are a few concrete steps you can take to get started. Here are 5 of them.
Create a boundary between work and personal life
Modern technology, while enhancing physicians’ ability to provide enhanced care, also, unfortunately, has eroded what was once a clear separation between work time and personal time. All it takes is a call, text, email, or instant message to interrupt what was once the restorative sanctuary of home life. In the age of constant contact, maintaining this separation is just as important as ever (unless, of course, you’re on call).
While you might not be able to sever all connections to work once you arrive at home, you can be proactive about separating work life and home life. Dike Drummond, the Happy MD, teaches his clients this ritual: As you pull into your driveway and turn off your car, tell yourself, “With this breath, I’m coming all the way home.” Take a deep breath, let it out, and shut the car off.
Ask for help
Another point from Dr. Drummond that we return to often here at PhysicianSense: Medical school and residency teach doctors to be “super hero, workaholic, Lone Ranger, perfectionists.” Let’s focus on the Lone Ranger part. Humans are social creatures, having evolved over millennia in tight-knit groups. It goes against our nature to isolate ourselves. That’s why solitary confinement is such a devastating tactic.
If you’re struggling with your mental health, or are generally feeling lonely or overwhelmed, you do not need to go it alone. Asking for help can take on many forms. It can be something as simple as outsourcing time-consuming chores to free up time for recreation, or as significant as working with a mental health professional. Be proactive. Ask for help before something simple mushrooms into something complicated.
Schedule something fun weekly
Ask any doctor to show you their calendar, and likely they can do it. They’ll produce a digital calendar that’s clotted with meetings, appointments, rounds, and other minutiae of a day in medicine. Ask the same doctor to show you their social calendar, and many will draw a blank.