How to maintain a social life as a busy physician

By Kristen Fuller, MD
Published February 9, 2024

Key Takeaways

I have lost and gained many friends over the years due to my demanding medical career. I have neglected friendships due to the intense hours and demands of the job, but I have also strengthened friendships with those who have stood by me and supported me throughout the years. 

Maintaining friendships as an adult is challenging, especially when you have a high-powered career, but I believe it is so essential to your overall well-being.

Good friends help you through stressful times—by talking it out or just being there for you, and you can do the same for them. Here are ways I tend to my social life while working as a busy physician. 

Add time to your calendar

Establishing new friendships and maintaining old ones takes time, effort, and vulnerability. We often don’t have much free time, so make sure you are scheduling time to have fun with your friends. 

This includes in-person time and staying in communication through texts, video chats, or phone calls. Schedule lunch and dinner dates, weekend trips, outdoor activities, and similar. I also love sending my friends cards and gifts in the mail. The bottom line: It takes effort to set aside time for friends, but you’ll be the better for it.

Befriend fellow doctors

Your fellow doctors understand your daily stressors, and they can be a great social support network when you want to talk about difficult days, interesting cases, or the business side of medicine.

Although your colleagues may also be strapped for time, you can offer to go to the gym after work, grab coffee, go for a walk, or have lunch together during the workday. 

Spending time with your fellow doctors can be a great way to boost your confidence in your career path, find guidance, and bond with people with whom you naturally share a lot in common. 

Emphasize quality over quantity

I believe it is easy to have 20 surface-level friendships but difficult to have five close friends. Quality friendships are often tricky to build but are worth the time and effort. You want to be around friends who believe in you, who are honest with you, who want to celebrate and mourn with you, and who aren't afraid to have difficult conversations with you. 

Stray away from friends who don’t have your best interest at heart. Being a physician can be challenging, and sometimes you just want to vent (and maybe shed some tears). Being surrounded by quality friends can help you work through these challenging times, so it’s important to find time to build and maintain healthy relationships with those who matter the most.  

Classify your friend circles

Ever since taking that first step on your journey with medicine, you have been surrounded by peers who share the same motivation and interests as you—becoming friends with your classmates and colleagues is natural. However, being friends with those outside your peer group is also important, as you can learn and grow differently with different groups of people. 

You may worry that friends who are not in medicine may not understand you—while they may not be able to empathize with your day-to-day stressors, they can still relate to the fact that work is stressful in general, no matter what field you’re in. 

My advice is to avoid too much “shop talk” and focus on your shared interests, such as food, hobbies, and world events. Having different groups of friends allows you to consider different perspectives, helping you become a more well-rounded individual whose life isn’t solely about work.​​

Steer clear of unhealthy friendships

"Tending to quality friendships with people you care about is just as important as steering clear of toxic friendships."

Kristen Fuller, MD

These individuals can weigh you down and could potentially jeopardize your career and happiness. 

As a high-earning physician, you may encounter individuals who want to become your friend because you have the power to write prescriptions and treat ailments, and because of your hefty paycheck. You may find that you are meeting friends who are attracted to you for the wrong reasons, and the sooner you see this, the sooner you can spend your time attracting the right people for you. 

Schedule alone time

Part of balancing a healthy social life with your career is spending quality time with yourself.

"Being alone to reflect, relax, and practice self-care rituals makes you a better friend to others."

Kristen Fuller, MD

Schedule time for activities best done alone that bring you joy. If you are burning the candle at both ends—focusing exclusively on your career and your social life—without taking care of yourself, you may find that your friendships will suffer. 

Each week in our "Real Talk" series, mental health advocate Kristen Fuller, MD, shares straight talk about situations that affect the mental and emotional health of today's healthcare providers. Each column offers key insights to help you navigate these challenging experiences. We invite you to submit a topic you'd like to see covered.

Read Next: Real Talk: Tell-tale signs your patient may be more likely to sue for malpractice

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