Research indicates that physicians tend to put the needs of their patients before their own. “We’re never taught that we’re allowed to put any of our own needs first, or even that it’s sometimes healthy to do so,” says Robb Hicks, MD. “Unfortunately, this perception often continues when physicians are developing and maintaining a practice because it requires being as available to patients as possible.”

Understanding Priorities

Dr. Hicks says that physicians must ensure that their own needs are being met in order to be the best providers for their patients. “That means that physicians must prioritize their time and energy,” he says. “This requires us to put some of our own needs before those of our patients.”

Providers who are unable to find a work–life balance are likely to burn out and make mistakes. “While we shouldn’t put all our needs first, we must make daily efforts to maintain our own physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health,” Dr. Hicks says. “The key is to figure out what things are truly needs, and which are simply desires.”

Living-Yourself-Needs-Callout

Once there is an understanding of priorities in their life, physicians must notice when their thoughts or behaviors are not consistent with their priorities. “It’s important for physicians to recognize when they sacrifice time with their spouse or their children, or when they give up their routine activities because of work obligations,” says Dr. Hicks. “This is when their priorities have become confused or are out of sync.”

Making Positive Changes

Recognizing that changes are needed and making these changes are two different things, according to Dr. Hicks. “The inability to create balance explains why some physicians leave medicine or stop accepting new Medicare patients,” he says. Many physicians have chosen to become employees, allowing them to keep a regular schedule. The use of scribes to perform computer entry work has also been shown to provide some relief.

Oftentimes, physicians feel like today’s healthcare system is controlling them, according to Dr. Hicks. “Physicians must reject developing this victim mentality and recognize that they alone are responsible for their practice and their priorities,” he says. “Several approaches can help, including mindfulness tools, looking for and addressing compulsive behaviors that merely serve to take your mind off work, asking a partner to cover for you while you enjoy a date night with your spouse, or hiring mid-level providers where appropriate. There are ways to overcome these issues and become empowered, but it requires taking responsibility and ownership of the obstacles that prevent a balanced life.”

References

Reese S. When is it time to live for yourself? Medscape. Available at http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/776991_2.

Shanafelt T, Boone S, Tan L, et al. Burnout and satisfaction with work-life balance among US physicians relative to the general US population. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:1377-1385.

Kravitz R. Physician job satisfaction as a public health issue. Isr J Health Policy Res. 2012;1:51.

Sinsky C, Willard-Grace R, Schutzbank A, et al. In search of joy in practice: a report of 23 high-functioning primary care practices. Ann Fam Med. 2013;11:272-278.

Mirrakhimov A, Rimoin L, Kwatra S. Physician burnout: an urgent call for early intervention. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173:710-711.