In a recent Medical Economics survey, a staggering 94% of physicians reported feeling burnt out from practicing medicine at some point in their career while 80% reported feeling burnt out right now. Overwhelmingly, the source of this burnout stemmed from administrative duties, dealing with electronic health records, and the sheer number of hours worked. Providers cannot afford to wait for new laws and regulations to take effect or a cultural shift to occur to tackle their burnout - they need solutions now! So, the question that remains is; how does one create work-life balance in healthcare?
Define Your Boundaries
Technological advances - both in healthcare and everyday life - are a blessing and a curse. While a patient can now call you at any time of day on your mobile phone, the problem is, a patient can now call you any time of day on your mobile phone! Not long ago, healthcare providers went to their clinic, practiced medicine, and then went home to little or no distractions pulling them away from their families and free time. Boundaries were easily set by the limitations of the physical space one was present in. These boundaries have become blurred and now require intentional thought and action to define in this day and age.
First, you must decide what is important to you and what you are not willing to compromise on. Perhaps it is that you want to take that morning jog before work; be home by 6pm for dinner with the kids; that Saturday afternoons are for a round of golf or your favorite yoga class. Then, set the physical or time boundary that blocks off the appropriate space for you to accomplish your goal. That might mean no patients before 8:30am, no after work calls or administrative duties, or forfeiting weekend hospital rounds. Any responsibilities or requests that interfere with the time you have set aside automatically becomes a ‘no’. At the outset, saying ‘no’ may feel uncomfortable, but in the long run it will serve you and others positively as it prevents resentment and burnout (for more on saying ‘no’, KevinMD wrote a great blog post about the feelings of guilt that can often accompany this and how to reframe that guilt).
As tough as it can be, you alone are in charge of your boundaries. As long as you are setting reasonable boundaries, if there are responsibilities and duties you are unable to accomplish during your dedicated work time, it is time to have a deeper conversation with the appropriate person at your place of practice to take something off of your plate.
Schedule a Guaranteed Positive Experience
Renowned Psychology Professor and scholar, Barbara Fredrickson, has been a champion of what is coined ‘prioritizing positivity’ for years. In Fredrickson’s extensive research, she has found that the traditional pursuit of happiness can often backfire, leaving people feeling exhausted and down. Newer research in the field of positive psychology suggests that scheduling an experience into your day that is guaranteed to make you feel good- even if it is just five minutes- can be a far more effective technique to achieve sustainable feelings of happiness. The idea here being no matter what your day might bring, you will have at least one intentional moment that is guaranteed to make you feel good.
Examples of prioritizing positivity include writing down three things you are grateful for, playing your favorite song, meditating for five minutes, or even simply making it a point to hug your spouse and say ‘I love you’ before you leave for the day. The goal is to make your moment of positivity something achievable that can be easily scheduled into your day and, of course, something that you really enjoy! Knowing that you will have this sacred moment of joy in your day can really boost your mood and feelings of gratitude.
Seek Professional Help
Due to high-stress work environments, long work shifts, compassion fatigue, and a lack of sense of control over their career (among other factors), healthcare professionals are often the most vulnerable to mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. They are also amongst the least likely to seek help because of the perceived stigma that they will be ostracized by coworkers and staff if they feel stressed or even lose their license to practice.
It may be a tough pill to swallow, but healthcare providers are humans just like the rest of us! Everyone experiences the stressors of life differently and therefore need different tools and personalized plans to work through them. Mental health professionals can help in a myriad of ways, including co-creating plans to face challenges, defining stressors and goals, exploring past traumas, and shifting your perspective on stress. In fact, Mental Health America reports that more than 80% of people who seek professional help for depression feel better while 90% of people who seek professional help for panic attacks find improvement!
Use Technology to Your Advantage
It is ironic that we include technology as a tool that can help you achieve better work-life balance after discussing its pitfalls, yet the truth is when used discerningly it can give you a significant advantage. There are some wonderful healthcare tech solutions designed specifically for healthcare providers and their patients to make their clinical days and lives better. Some standout technologies include telehealth platforms, wearable devices to remotely monitor patients, self-service kiosks to streamline patient processes, and voice assistants. One awesome example is PredictionHealth’s AI-Assisted Scribing service that uses smart AI technology and natural language processing to listen to the patient encounter and generate high quality patient documentation. With this tech, providers are free to focus on their patients during the visit and are also unencumbered from their administrative documentation burden. A true win for providers who spend hours every day in their EHR.
The Truth of Work-life Balance
Taking care of oneself is not selfish. It is absolutely vital for providers to find a life in balance to be their best selves and provide the best care to their patients. Healthcare providers sacrifice so much to receive their education and subsequently give so much to their patients. Work-life balance is necessary for the healthcare industry and its professionals to not just survive, but thrive. Discovering what will help you achieve your work-life balance goals will ensure you are the absolute best provider and human you can be for years to come.