Attaining an ideal work-life balance is exceedingly difficult. Clinic priorities are often diametrically opposed to personal goals. Your plans to get to the gym or even home for dinner time with your children after a busy work day may come at the expense of finishing charting, yet if you make more time by seeing fewer patients, your practice may suffer. Dermatologists are fortunate to enjoy high levels of career satisfaction, yet we often feel overwhelmed by practice responsibilities, especially as EMR, telemedicine, and constant connectivity blur the clinic-home boundaries. Although simultaneously attaining peak success and satisfaction across all aspects of your life is probably impossible, a number of strategies exist that may help you find a more harmonious balance.
First, develop a “big-picture” perspective. Write down your professional and personal priorities and contemplate what concrete steps (in the near and longer term) are required to reach these goals. Consider ranking your objectives by importance – you may find that the time you have been devoting to each goal is not concordant with its rank. Also, truly evaluate whether each goal is attainable given your current circumstances; rejigger your expectations if necessary.
Get Down to the Nitty-Gritty
Next, get detail-oriented. Search for even the smallest efficiency upticks both at work and home. Take a page from your attorney’s handbook and chart your time for a few days, down to the minute. Could you save 20 minutes by making coffee at home instead of stopping for a cup on the way to the office? You may be surprised at how long it takes you to complete simple administrative tasks such as inputting routine data into the EMR and responding to patient emails. Strategize how best to combat these mini-time sinks. Build smartphrases into your EMR so you do not continually type the same information over and over, “informed patient of benign nature of biopsy result…” Exploit the electronic nature of the modern medical record and do some charting at home after your children are tucked into bed. Consider checking your email only once or twice daily and responding in bulk for a set amount of time. Many drains on your time can be avoided if you develop a philosophy of training your staff to do absolutely everything that does not require your expertise. Multi-task whenever possible, such as holding partner meetings over the clinic’s lunch hour.
Bring It Home
This philosophy can benefit your home life as well. Outsource as many responsibilities as you can. An obvious example is hiring a CPA to do your taxes. But consider hiring out even more traditional home tasks, such as grocery shopping, housekeeping, cooking, and laundry. You want to maximize your free time at home, and using reliable outside help with chores, errands, etc. may be more beneficial than hiring an extra MA at work. Advanced planning is also critical; don’t fritter away a free weekend morning for lack of concrete plans, even if they are as simple as meeting a friend for coffee.
If you feel that the time you are spending related to clinical duties is irrevocably discordant with your personal goals, there are larger-scale changes worth considering. If your commute exceeds 45 minutes, it may be worthwhile to move. Studies show that long commutes are associated with depression and higher divorce rates. If you are spending more days at work than desired, you may want to consider joining a like-minded partner (of course, one you trust and work well with) in developing a practice-sharing model, where you split staff, office space, and patients.
Achieving desired harmony in and out of clinic is difficult, if not impossible. Fortunately, however, our field is more conducive than others to attaining at least a semblance of balance, with dedicated effort and advance planning.
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