Balancing work and home life is possible for physicians—with a little help

By Samar Mahmoud, MS
Published January 4, 2022

Key Takeaways

Medical training equips physicians with many valuable clinical skills, from knowing how to diagnose and treat patients to being compassionate and exercising good bedside manners. Currently, healthcare professionals are facing increasing workplace pressures, leading to widespread feelings of burnout and exhaustion. To avoid burnout, maintain balance, and lead a desirable lifestyle, doctors need far more than excellent clinical skills.

It’s a new year and a perfect time for renewal and rejuvenation. If you normally set New Year’s resolutions, strengthening your non-clinical skills can have a rewarding payoff. Here are some non-clinical skills that you can work on incorporating into your life this year. 

Financial literacy 

While doctors in the United States earn high salaries after completing their training, they emerge from residency much later and with significantly more debt than their peers with other professional graduate degrees—82% of recent medical graduates possess more than $100,000 in student loans. For those who choose to pursue fellowship training after residency, the reality is not only more time working with lower wages, but also increased debt burden. 

High debt combined with long work hours leads to physicians entering the workforce on shaky financial footing, with many doctors simply too busy to properly manage their finances. 

Financial literacy prevents burnout due to financial stress and gives you the freedom to practice medicine the way you want, allowing you to maintain your desired lifestyle. An article published by the American Medical Association compiled these six finance tips from retired physicians: 

  1. Start saving early. Physicians who started saving for their retirement later in their career reported less satisfaction in their retirement. 

  2. Consider hiring a financial adviser. Approximately 75% of retired physicians worked with a professional financial advisor.

  3. Invest in disability insurance. Maintaining your desired lifestyle means being prepared for worst-case scenarios, which could mean the difference between financial stability and financial ruin. 

  4. Review and update your estate plan. Work with your financial advisor to make sure, at minimum, that you have a will and medical directives in place. 

  5. Know your investment options. Many physicians are unsure of which investments to make and this often results in no investments at all. It is imperative to learn about your options and to schedule time to focus on your personal finances. 

  6. Educate yourself on your own finances. Because doctors are often not formally taught financial literacy, they often must take matters into their own hands when it comes to understanding their finances. 

Work-life balance 

The term work-life balance is defined as the amount of time you spend doing your job when compared with the time spent with family and friends and doing the things you enjoy. This concept may seem elusive and even outright unattainable to many working in medicine.

Although work-life balance is the culmination of external factors that are controlled by employers, in addition to internal factors, there are some steps doctors can take to achieve a balance that allows them to live a stable and fulfilling life. 

First, it’s important to start thinking about work-life balance as early as medical school or during residency, as decisions made early on in your career will have a direct impact on your overall life balance. Consider this when you choose a speciality, and also when choosing your work environment. Ask yourself whether your prospective employer has reasonable expectations of its employees, if it is a team-oriented place, and if there is room to voice potential concerns.

To achieve balance, it is also important to be aware of the different variables in your life that require your time. For example, your work, your own needs, and the needs of others are all demands on your time. Awareness of these variables is critical to avoiding irreparable mistakes. 

Finally, realize that priorities are constantly evolving, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to maintaining balance. Work-life balance today might look completely different than it will a few years down the road, and it is imperative to adjust expectations for yourself and others in your life as demands on your time change. Communication and flexibility are key to preventing burnout and to maintaining your desired lifestyle. 

Learning to say ‘no’

This next tip is intricately linked to work-life balance. It’s difficult to say no in general, and it is even more so for physicians who often have “fixer” personalities. It’s natural for doctors to agree to last-minute requests and to step in whenever there is a problem they can fix, even if time is scarce. Sometimes it can even feel easier to take on more roles instead of delegating tasks. However, learning to say no is one of the best things you can do to help you achieve your desired lifestyle. 

According to a recent article on the art of saying no, the first step when determining what is essential and what is not is to divide your list into the following categories: tasks essential to primary job responsibilities, tasks that could be delegated to someone else, tasks that do not require much or any of your feedback, and tasks you do not need to be involved with at all. 

If you determine that all of your tasks fall under your primary job responsibilities, see if any tasks can be passed on to someone else. For example, could you pass on note transcription to a scribe? Could you pass some of your cases to other members of your team? 

Saying no to non-essential tasks will allow you to maintain your focus on the real demands on your time. This will not only benefit you, but it will also have positive effects on your patients, co-workers, and family members. 


Our final tip is to make and maintain your professional network. Having a diverse network allows you to find new opportunities and to leave behind those that are no longer serving you. 

A 2018 survey found that 40% of new physicians found their first jobs through networking and referrals. While the idea of networking can conjure up images of awkward interactions in large conference rooms, conquering this skill can help you make significant strides in finding your dream job and actualizing balance in your life. 

Here are some tips to help you expand your network. 

  • Identify colleagues who have the connections and/or the knowledge to aid you in reaching your goals. 

  • Join professional groups and utilize any physician networking opportunities they may provide. 

  • Follow up whenever you make a new contact.

  • When using social media for networking, pay attention to these guidelines made by the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards. 

And lastly, good contacts require maintenance. Make an effort to preserve good relationships with your former colleagues and employers.

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