Maintaining A Work-Life Balance In Your Healthcare Career

While considering topics for my latest blog entry, I found my eyes wandering to the photographs on my desk of my two boys – 3-years-old and 5-months-old. I began to think about one important topic that sometimes goes under-discussed in professional-type publications: maintaining a good work-life balance.

Most of my blog posts have addressed more technical, if not controversial, healthcare legal issues. So I have chosen to write this one from a more personal, motherly perspective.

That’s not to say that I have a unique perspective as a working mom. Work-life balance often is couched as a “working mom” issue, but in my experience, working dads often encounter the same struggles as their female counterparts. And in truth, this issue is not even particular to parents. Trying to balance work with the needs of a spouse, parents, siblings, and even friends can be difficult.

While the stress of juggling work life with personal life doesn’t discriminate among working professionals, healthcare providers seem to be particularly susceptible to the problem because of their long and often unorthodox hours. I know this firsthand, as I worked the night shift as an ICU nurse before becoming a lawyer. Though I was single at the time, I still found my “night-owl schedule” less conducive to social time with family and friends.

This post is less about offering a “solution” to the problem—because everyone’s work-life balance varies, and I am by no means an expert—but more about acknowledging the issue, sparking a conversation about it, and offering my humble two cents as to how I try to make it work.

There is no doubt that stress (whether from work or home) has a direct impact on one’s well-being and health. We’ve all seen articles on that topic. But this can go one step further for health care providers whose mental and physical stress can directly impact patient care (see my related bedside manner blog item here).

For me, the balance has come in stages. It began when I was a younger, single nurse and later, lawyer. Then, my priorities surrounded caring for my “furry kids” (read: dogs), socializing with friends, and spending time with my family. After I got married, my home-life focus shifted to my husband and nourishing our relationship. I am, fortunately, married to someone who greatly supports my career, so long nights at work were understood and even appreciated by him.

After our first son was born, late nights at work were not as appealing to me because I had a little one who didn’t appreciate mommy burning the midnight oil.

Then, the best way to balance my new role as a healthcare attorney and mother was choosing the best time to squeeze in those extra hours. For me, it was doing extra work on the weekend or choosing one night per week to work late. For others, it might mean an hour or two of work after the little ones have gone to bed, or maybe starting their work day an hour or two earlier, allowing more family time in the evenings. Obviously, healthcare providers may not have as much flexibility as lawyers to catch up on work. But optimizing your work time is always key.

After my second son was born, the balancing act became harder. That’s when I really tried to focus on working smarter not harder. Because an infant’s demands don’t lend themselves to long work hours, I have tried to make my time at the office really count.

That means multi-tasking more than ever before; eating a quick lunch at my desk; calling a client while commuting to and from work (via a hands-free device, of course!); and keeping my schedule very tight, allowing for little down time during the day. That way, I can squeeze every second out of each workday. And there are still those Sunday afternoons of work just to catch up from any time missed during the week.

I have also learned to delegate better (this harkens back to my blog discussion, Bedside manner, office staff can stem or stir patient lawsuits). Surrounding yourself with a strong team of physicians, nurses, technicians, etc., is key for any health care provider to maintain a work-life balance.

Finally, be selective (as much as you are able) in both your home and work-life. In other words, learn to say “no.” I know that’s a hard thing for many healthcare providers to do. It is in your nature to push yourself to the limit and to put your patients first. That’s what drove you to become a physician, nurse, therapist, etc. But saying no to the less significant activities will open up that ever-precious time slot for your top priorities. And whether that is patient care, family time, or time for yourself, it’s up to you, but it will be time well spent.

For me, the work-life balance conundrum is a never-ending challenge, and I certainly let the scales fall too far in one direction more than I would like. But keeping it at the forefront of my mind and seeking out advice from others who face the same challenge help me make it work.

Kimberly K. Bocell, a former registered nurse, is a shareholder at Dallas’ Chamblee, Ryan, Kershaw & Anderson, where she represents healthcare providers in all facets of health law.

Posted in Expert Opinions.