For many physicians, taking care of themselves is the most challenging type of care they provide. Practices must address the problems of physician stress, burnout and poor work-life balance before they escalate to greater tragedy for physicians or patients.
1. 'Work-life balance' is not one-size-fits-all.
"Two doctors may lead very similar lives on paper, but one may feel fulfilled and engaged while the other may feel frustrated and frazzled," noted Medscape.
"Balance isn't about how many hours you are working or how many patients you are seeing," explained Liz Ferron, senior consultant and manager of clinical services for Physician Wellness Services. "It's far more about how you are feeling." Remember that individual physicians have various stress levels that they may experience differently.
2. The right balance changes over time.
Similarly, a physician's threshold for what constitutes too many hours or patients is not only highly individual, but may also evolve during various career and personal life stages.
Iris Grimm, an Atlanta-based life coach for doctors, told American Medical News that she advises clients to spend one hour on their birthdays to evaluate parts of their work life that may need adjusting. Otherwise, "Many times they only think about this question when they are in a crisis," she said.
3. Improve processes to cut stress.
Doug Couper, an internist in Maine, told amednews that the slowdown in productivity he suffered when his practice implemented an electronic medical record made him feel distanced from the reasons he went into medicine. To help come back from that low point in 2007, Couper and his staff worked with a practice coach to fine-tune patient flow and cut the average time from when a patient checked in to when he or she was seen. By continuing to focus on process improvement, Couper said he now feels more inspired, in control and efficient at work.