The stresses and strains that inevitably accompany your life as a resident or fellow are considerable. As hectic as your day feels, the challenging pace can actually help prepare you for the next stages in your career advancement

– if you learn how to cope with the new and escalating pressures by successfully achieving a healthy balance between your work and your life outside of work.

Most experts who study and recommend techniques for helping 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. Mental health experts agree that a critical step in getting this balance is achieved when both you and your program recognize your right to a fulfilled life inside and outside of work as the norm, to the mutual benefit of you, your program, your family, and your community.

It’s important for you to set life goals for each sphere and set workable strategies for how best they can be achieved within the context of your total life. This often means synchronizing, 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 a ongoing basis, as you strive to achieve your objectives within each sphere of influence.

As an example of 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 stress levels increase within both spheres. This is further compounded like negative interest when the escalating workplace stress begins to drive increased home life stress.

What do human resource experts suggest as a way to head-off and reverse a “stress arms race” like this?

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

  • Time Management One of the leading causes of stress is simply being poorly organized. And procrastination is the mother of disorganization. See tips for getting and staying organized in CareerPhysician’s Articles and associated Toolkits on Organizational Tools and Organizational Skills.
  • Get Help It’s natural to want to try to do it all yourself. It’s also impossible. Seek tactical help from a colleague, your spouse, a friend or a family member. Get all the spheres aligned and working in the same direction.
  • Forget about it! – Sometimes you just have to let the little fish swim by. Choose your battles and recognize that accomplishing the tasks you know are important while not quite getting to one or two minor jobs still can make for a very fulfilling day. Remember that daily job fulfillment and satisfaction are sure-fire stress killers, and they make achieving a balance in work and life that much easier and more rewarding.
  • Keep It Simple Don’t take on more than you know can deliver well and on time. Sometimes this means learning to say “No” to some requests for help. That’s not easy, but it’s a skill definitely worth learning.
  • Seize Control Remember that, even when you are feeling overwhelmed, you are still the one in charge of your own situation. Take control by prioritizing your tasks and working through them in an orderly fashion. Don’t forget the satisfying thrill of crossing tasks off your list.
  • Take it Easy – This, of course, is relative if you are in a high-pressure residency program, given the considerable distance between the ACGME work hours guidelines and leaving early each Friday afternoon. However, there are always little steps you can take to stop and enjoy the things and people around you. Try leaving more time between meetings; don’t over-schedule your “downtime” and find some ways to compartmentalize the most high-stress elements of your work.
  • Don’t fight … Switch – The job and workplace you are mightily struggling to balance with your life may not be the best one for you. Some jobs are more inherently more demanding and stressful than others. Take some time to look around and reconsider your options within your profession, before it’s too late.

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

These work-life balance 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 upside to 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 spring break or Christmas)
  • eldercare initiatives (referral program, eldercare assessment, case management, a list of local organizations or businesses that can help with information or products, or 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, or fitness membership assistance (financial).

And if you’re concerned that you might not have achieved an optimal work-life balance, the UK-based Mental Health Foundation has developed an online quiz of 10 questions.

Take the quiz here … …and if the results fall short of where you think you want to be, take the steps necessary to get back into balance.

About the Author:

Wesley D. Millican, MBA, CEO and Physician Talent Officer of CareerPhysician Advisors, LP, and CareerPhysician, LLC, provides comprehensive talent solutions for academic children’s hospitals, colleges of medicine and academic medical centers across the nation. He possesses a longstanding passion for career development of all young physicians and serves as a go to career resource for training program directors and their residents and fellows. In continuing his commitment to the “future of medicine”, Mr. Millican speaks nationally at residency and fellowship programs. His Launch Your Career® Series is a proven resource for today’s residents and fellows and has served as a go to resource for program directors over the last 15 years.