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3 Things to Know About Work-Life Balance When You’re a Cardiothoracic Surgeon

By Thomas Gole, DO, FAAFP21 Dec 2015

You’ve likely seen stories declaring it’s impossible to “have it all” when it comes to work-life balance. And as a surgeon, you might agree. After all, unpredictable schedules and long hours can take a toll on time spent with your family or enjoying leisure activities.

You already know the pitfalls of burnout and how it can affect your health and performance. Failing to recognize the need for a work-life balance can quickly put you on the road to burnout.

The Society of Thoracic Surgeons held a roundtable discussion contemplating how cardiothoracic surgeons can achieve work-life balance. Here is some of what they had to say.

If You Can, Promote a Work-Life Balance to Your Residents

“The problem becomes much larger when work and life outside of work become one,” said Fawwaz Shaw, one of the roundtable participants. He recommends trying to create an environment where there is increased job satisfaction. It also may be helpful for residents to find a faculty mentor who models good work-life balance, he suggests.

Define What Work-Life Balance Means to You

Work-life balance means different things to different people. Maybe you want to have a weekend off to camp with your family. Maybe you need a few hours in the evening to attend kids’ sporting events. Maybe you want some time in the afternoon to enjoy a hobby.

“Everybody wants to take advantage of our type A personalities,” explained Nahush Mokadam, co-director of heart transplantation and program director for mechanical circulatory support (ventricular assist devices) at the University of Washington Medical Center. “If we allow that to happen unfettered, it will. It can consume you, so it’s our responsibility to remember that’s happening and say, ‘You know what, this is important to me, that’s not important to me and this is how I’m going to strike that balance.’ ”

If you’re not sure what you’d like to get from your work-life balance, the HappyMD recommends considering what you’d like to focus on outside of medicine. Do you enjoy cooking? Writing? Have a once-enjoyed hobby that you’ve been neglecting?

Also, focus on which relationships, activities, personal care needs are most important to you. Once you’ve established these things, write them down and keep the list handy so you’ll always have a reminder of what’s important to you outside of your job.

Make a Schedule

Now that you know what you’d like to focus on outside of work, write it into your schedule. Whether that’s a physical calendar in your office or plugging an event into your event reminders on your phone, having a reminder of something you want to achieve outside of work can actually help you achieve it.

“In general, we’re a bunch of ‘yes’ people. We say yes to everything. The importance for [hospital] leadership to recognize is that ‘No, you shouldn’t say yes to that. Go ahead and say no,’ ” said Mokadam. “Empower people to say ‘We have limits.’ ”

As a surgeon, achieving a work-life balance can be extremely difficult. But by exploring what’s important to you and taking steps to ensure you have the time you need to enjoy them, you can maintain your health and happiness.

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