Wellness and Life Balance

Family, exercise, sleep, nutrition, and time away are critical for success.
Having a plan to reduce stress and to make time for family and self is essential to navigating the various demands of faculty life.

Athletes in training have to balance training work load and rest to maximize the physical performance and minimize the risk of overuse injury and overtraining syndrome. The ideal training plan involves multiple cycles; the shortest cycle is a week and the longest is a year. Of the seven days available in each week cycle, 6 days alternate hard and easy workouts, and one day is dedicated to rest with no training activities.

In the year-long cycle, there are week long training breaks and a full month away from training. While faculty life is not about physical performance goals, the concept of time away each day, each week, and each year are important to maintain a “normal” life. Think of “athlete overtraining” (fatigue and inability to improve training performance) and “physician burnout” (exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation) as similar problems.

Why is this important?

The statistics for physicians are not good for burn out, alcohol and drugs, depression, suicide, and divorce. A recent survey found that the overall rate of physician burnout in 2017 was 51% with family medicine ranking third among medical specialties at 55%. These numbers have increased over the last four years.

Five important parts of your life

  • Family
  • Fitness
  • Fatigue (sleep)
  • Faculty support & numbers
  • Finance

Think of the five F’s as you plan your day, your week, your month, and your year. It is not unusual in academic medicine to see this list of life priorities in reverse order with family, fitness, and sleep pushed to the side with the goal of advancing your career.

Maintaining the “joy” in your career can be as simple as finding your work life passion and dedicating about 20% of your work time to that activity. A strategy to increase your joy is to learn to say "yes" to the right things for your life and career, or from the opposite perspective, “learn to say no” to decrease burnout and work life stress. Also high on the list is “stay fit or get fit.”

Tips that have helped others

  • Schedule and plan family vacations a year in advance so all family members are on the calendar
  • Eat dinner with your family at least five times a week
  • Develop or maintain a hobby separate from medicine and work
  • Schedule “date night” with your partner
  • Work out daily for at least 30 minutes
  • Eat wisely
  • Schedule the amount of sleep you need to stay fresh and on top of your game
  • Learn to say “no”

The American Academy of Family Physicians recognizes the importance of physician wellness and has a dedicated program titled “Your health before all else.” You can access the AAFP website with your membership login to learn more.

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