When your career ruins your personal life

By Kristen Fuller, MD
Published May 13, 2022

Key Takeaways

I can easily recall the number of serious romantic relationships that were ruined because I believed my work as a physician was more critical than whatever was going on in my partner’s life.

I worked endlessly, was too proud to admit I was hurting my relationships, and strived to go above and beyond for my patients—but at what price?

Constantly putting my career first cost me a couple of serious partnerships with people I loved and respected. Constant multitasking—thinking of patients during dinner, talking about work on a date—got in the way of being truly present with people. And to be honest, it wasn’t worth it.

I often wonder today if I might be married with kids at this stage of life if I’d been better at balancing medicine and my home life.

"Looking back, I wish I had more guidance so maybe I would’ve set better boundaries with my job."

Kristen Fuller, MD

The statistics

Granted, being a doctor can make it incredibly difficult to have clear-cut boundaries between your work and home life. That's why work-life balance is such a popular topic among healthcare professionals.

An American Medical Association survey revealed that 92% of physicians aged 35 or younger felt that work-life balance was important, but it's easier said than done.[]

Research shows that physicians work an average of 51.4 hours per week, with nearly one in four working 61-80 hours each week.[]

But it's essential to nurture your life outside of medicine to avoid burnout. Otherwise, you may bring exhaustion and stress home, which can create tension, fuel arguments with your significant other, or cause rifts with your children.

So, what can you do about it?

Clearly define your time

Defining your non-work time is complex in today's medical world, especially when we have mobile technology providing access to patient charts and records at all times.

One way to go about it is to take a look at your goals, including financial, family, work, and personal objectives. As we become older and wiser, our priorities change, and it's OK to dedicate more time to something that now matters more. If you want to start a family, for example, maybe it’s wise to take a good hard look at your work schedule. Thinking about what you want for yourself and your family can help you set career goals and boundaries.

Reassess your priorities and goals regularly.

You can also look at ways to switch up your work schedule. If you’re on-call at all times, it may be hard to turn off work mode, and work may pour into your home life. It may be time to adjust your call schedule, clinic hours, and teaching commitments. This is a hard pill to swallow for many, but it may be the best decision for your career and life.

Schedule personal and family time

You care for your patients all day and then come home to your family, but many of us neglect ourselves. If you work 60 hours a week and take care of your kids, how much time are you setting aside for yourself? Schedule personal time every day—as little as 30 minutes to go for a run, read a book, go to yoga class, sit in a bathtub, or meditate.

Take time to unwind, disconnect from electronics, and be alone.

It’s just as important to schedule family time with your partner and children together and separately. This may mean sharing one meal a day, going on date night once a month, or taking your kids to the park on weekends. Vacation counts, too.

Schedule these in your calendar, and stick to these commitments so you all have something to look forward to. Taking time away helps reset your mind and body so when you come back home, you can be a better physician, parent, partner, and friend.

Bring in help

To keep your life in balance, you may need to enlist outside help. There’s no rule saying you must do all the work for your home's upkeep and family's well-being.

Consider hiring assistance for meal preparation, landscaping, laundry services, grocery delivery, and housekeeping. This will free up more time to connect with your partner and family each day.

Read Next: Real Talk: When physicians struggle with mental illness

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.

Share with emailShare to FacebookShare to LinkedInShare to Twitter