The stresses and strains that inevitably accompany your life as a resident or fellow are considerable. As hectic as a typical day feels, the challenging pace can actually help prepare you for the next stages in your career advancement—but you must learn to achieve a healthy balance between your work and your life outside of work.




Most experts who study and recommend techniques to help individuals achieve a good work-life balance usually start with an assessment of the four broad spheres that make up the total picture of your life:

  • Self
  • Work
  • Family
  • Community and friends


Achieving a healthy work-life balance is about gaining control over when, where, and how you work. When you and your program recognize that your right to a fulfilled life (both inside and outside of work) is an essential right—one that benefits you, your program, your family, and your community—this healthy work-life balance is easier to achieve.

It’s important to set goals for each area of your life and find workable strategies to best achieve those goals. This may demand that you synchronize, to some degree, your life goals across the four spheres of influence and experience.

The process of trying to achieve your goals in this framework creates a very natural and positive effect. You will find yourself adjusting and fine-tuning your work-life balance on an ongoing basis as you strive to accomplish your objectives within each sphere of influence.

To understand how interconnected these spheres can become, consider this: as you strive to meet the ever-rising demands of both work and family commitments, you are pulled in multiple directions at once. The lines between work and life become blurred and your stress levels increase—the escalating strains of the workplace fueling those of your home life, and vice versa.

Human resource experts have suggestions for how to recognize and reverse this “stress arms race.”

Try these techniques and approaches for working towards a more healthy work-life balance:

  • Manage your time wisely – Procrastination can lead to disorganization, which can then lead to stress.
  • Get help – It’s natural to try to do all that life demands by yourself; it’s also impossible. Seek tactical help from a colleague, your spouse, a friend, or a family member.
  • Forget about it! – Choose your battles and recognize that accomplishing important tasks can make for a very fulfilling day—even if you don’t get to one or two minor jobs. Remember that daily job fulfillment and satisfaction are surefire stress killers, and they make achieving a balance in work and life much easier and more rewarding.
  • Keep it simple – Don’t take on more than you know you can complete in a sufficient and timely manner. This might mean learning to say “no” to some requests for help. It’s not easy, but it’s a skill worth learning.
  • Seize control – Remember that, even when you are feeling overwhelmed, you are still in command of your own situation. Take control by prioritizing your tasks and working through them in an orderly fashion. Enjoy the satisfying thrill of crossing tasks off your list.
  • Take it easy – This suggestion is relative if you are part of a high-pressure residency program. “Taking it easy” might seem unthinkable when you are juggling ACGME work hours while thinking about all you have to do at home. However, you can always try pausing to enjoy the people and activities around you. Try leaving more time between meetings; don’t over-schedule your downtime; and find ways to compartmentalize the most high-stress elements of your work.
  • Make changes – If you are struggling to balance the needs of your job with the needs of your life, consider that your current job and workplace might not be the best for you. Some jobs are inherently more demanding and stressful than others. Take some time to look around and reconsider your options within your profession.


Studies routinely show that when a workforce member successfully balances the demands, challenges, and stresses across their work-life worlds, their organization as a whole benefits greatly.

Benefits to your program could include:

  • increased productivity
  • improved recruitment and retention
  • lower rates of absenteeism
  • a richer diversity in skills and personnel
  • enhanced working relationship among colleagues
  • an improved patient experience
  • a staff that shows more initiative and teamwork


There is clearly a significant degree of incentive for your program to foster a positive and healthy work-life balance in its residents. The very best organizations recognize this and offer valuable assistance to their workers, including:

  • on-site childcare and emergency childcare assistance
  • seasonal childcare programs (such as during spring break and holidays)
  • eldercare initiatives (referral program, eldercare assessment, case management, a list of local organizations or businesses that can help with information or products, and seminars and support groups)
  • referral program to care services, local organizations, etc.
  • employee assistance programs (e.g., on-site seminars and workshops on such topics as stress, nutrition, smoking, communication, etc.)
  • internal and/or external educational or training opportunities
  • fitness facilities  and/or fitness membership assistance


If you’re concerned that you are not achieving an optimal work-life balance, OWLLytics offers a brief online quiz to help you assess your situation.

Take the quiz here. If your results fall short of where you’d like them to be, take the necessary steps to get back into balance.


About the Author

Wesley D. Millican, MBA, is CEO and Physician Talent Officer of CareerPhysician, LLC, the national leader in child health faculty and executive search and leadership development. In partnership with the Child Health Advisory Council, a diverse group of emeritus and current national thought leaders in academic pediatrics, Mr. Millican provides critical career and professional development content to residents and fellows to help foster their effective transitions from training into academic and/or private practice roles. For more than 20 years, Mr. Millican and CareerPhysician’s Launch Your Career® Series has served as the trusted go to career training and ACGME Competency resource for U.S. residency and fellowship program directors, and most importantly for residents and fellows seeking to maximize their return on the personal, professional and economic investments and sacrifices made during training. Through Launch Your Career® Series onsite and visual programs and associated web-based content, Mr. Millican believes that residents and fellows are the future of academic pediatrics and that meaningful early investments in their career journey will have a monumental positive impact on their long-term professional satisfaction and their service to children. 

For more information about the Launch Your Career® Series and/or to schedule a program for your residency or fellowship program, contact us.

Updated 12-21-23