Finding Work-Life Balance in Medicine

June 16, 2017

Learn how to achieve a work-life balance in medical school.

A work-life balance in medicine is possible with the right information.

With Ramadan in full swing, wedding season going strong, and Father’s Day right around the corner, we thought it would be fitting to discuss how those in medical training balance their personal and professional lives.

Based on others’ experiences and words of advice, here are a few ways you can achieve a work-life balance in medicine, whether you’re a medical student, resident, or physician:

Finding work-life balance as a parent in medical school

Given the amount of schooling it takes to become a physician, medical school years are also prime years for starting a family. This creates a dilemma for medical students who are torn between their dreams of becoming both a doctor and a parent. While this is especially difficult for mothers in medicine, fathers also struggle to provide for the family and make time for the family at the same time. In the spirit of father’s day, it’s important to recognize all the selflessness and sacrificing it requires to be a doctor and a dad.

One physician father offers his advice: “Prioritize. In medical school, you’re taught to pick your priorities and be OK with other things not meeting expectations. This is even more true for a parent in school. Reading to my kids every night and sitting down to eat dinner as a family became my priorities. Academically, I set a reasonable goal for my class rank and ended the first two years within 1% of that goal.”

For more support, child care resources, social outlets, and more, consider joining the Physicians’ Dad’s Group—a Facebook group with over 3,200 members and counting.

Practicing medicine with religious practices  

Spiritual fluency is becoming increasingly important in medicine as doctors are confronted with patients who have all different religious practices and restrictions. Doctors must have a basic level of awareness and ability to communicate when it comes to different preferences. That said, it’s also important they’re given the same level of freedom and respect when it comes to their own beliefs. For example, Muslim medical students are currently fasting during daylight hours for Ramadan. While those outside the faith may not understand the benefits, a basic level of awareness about your fellow students’ experience will help you be more compassionate and accommodating.

As one observant medical student explains: “Beyond food, fasting requires me to explore an internal freedom and move beyond a materialistic craving. It forces me to re-examine my limitations mercifully, to revamp my priorities subjectively, and to better myself zealously. Although I continue to work relentlessly, I feel more liberated from the demoralizing expectations of honoring exams and more so crave the knowledge to become a better physician for my patients — a mindset that I feel has me physically and mentally healthier.”

Making relationships work in medical school

With the unpredictability of the medical training—from getting accepted into medical school, to matching in residency, to getting into a fellowship, it can be difficult for one person to adjust, let alone a spouse. Whether you’re dating or married to a fellow medical professional or someone outside the profession, it’s important to know what to expect, how to prioritize, and how to sustain your marriage through it all.

The first thing to consider is the stage of your relationship, which will determine the decisions you make and how much of a role the other person should have in helping you make them. If your relationship is more new, you will have to discuss how much of a commitment and sacrifice you’re both willing to make at this point. You’ll likely want to prioritize your preferences a bit more. If your relationship is further along, your partner’s preferences and job situation may hold more weight. You’ll have to communicate openly and honestly about what you’re both willing to give up and what’s important to you to hang onto. The most important thing is that both people feel their preferences and needs are being heard and taken into account.

As one married medical student advises: “The commitment we have for each other goes above all and we constantly keep each other in check, on track, and in sync with our individual and combined goals. That last part is what I believe is the true secret, having personal and couple goals and continuously keeping the other person’s goals in mind without overshadowing our own.”  

To help you achieve work-life balance in medical school, check out our live online USMLE courses—complete with on demand, online instruction so you can prioritize what’s really important.


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