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    10 strategies to enrich physicians’ lives

    Physician Writing Contest: Honorable Mention

    As I write, I’m on a one-day sabbatical. I’m spending my day off doing what nurtures my soul and refreshes my spirit: A brisk walk. Candles lit. Music playing. Aaaaah

     

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    Such mornings used to be rare for me. After a demanding year as chief resident, I served as a military physician and then joined a busy practice while remaining active in my community. At the seven-year mark, I felt like my Air Force uniform—fatigued! Every day I battled insurance companies, electronic health records (EHRs) and exhausting inefficiencies.

    It took years to build up the courage to step off the treadmill of my medical life and finally exhale. I left the exam room for a season and my life changed drastically. Playgrounds replaced the doctor’s lounge, and I traded my stethoscope for infant toys and diapers. It was glorious. For the first time, I was mom first, and somehow I felt more human.

    When I rejoined my old colleague some time later, my clinical skills were intact, and I knew myself better. I reordered my priorities and took steps to ensure the practice of medicine stopped running my life. As I learned to cultivate the heart of service that led me to our profession, I experienced a deeper sense of meaning. While it’s a journey that needs constant attention, the following 10 strategies have helped me take charge of my life and maintain work-life balance. 

    Flip it! Yes, flip it. I call it life-work balance to remind myself that work is a part of life, not the other way around. After you flip it, ask yourself the important questions: Who am I? And, then: Why am I here? Then make your life answer those questions brilliantly, using your gifts to bless the world.

    Align what you do with what you value. As you take charge of your schedule, make sure your priorities guide your planning. Consider three critical starting points:

     

    Know your values. What matters to you deeply? What are some “non-negotiables” in your family life, relationships and work?

    Know your limits. Set boundaries and enforce them consistently, at work and in your “bigger life.” Practice saying no with grace and without guilt, understanding that boundaries are a sign of health, not weakness.

    Know your goals. Where do you want to be in one, three, five and 10 years? And what must you do now to advance toward those goals? (Schedule it.)

     

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    Own your time. Turn your calendar into a friend that helps you manage your energy and effectiveness in 24-hour blocks. Start with the basics that lead to healthier workdays. Schedule ways to nurture and strengthen: 1) your body (get enough sleep, train for a 5K, join a Zumba class), 2) your mind (read a new book or enroll in a course), 3) your soul and spirit (outdoor walks, worship, service), and 4) your relationships (weekly dates, handwritten notes, a camping trip). As your chosen activities become a regular part of your monthly plan, you will do more of what supports your best self.

    Be proactive. Few things cause more stress than passivity paired with incongruence between who we are and what we do. Consider these two examples:

    1. Do you value punctuality but always run late in an inefficient office? The chronic frustration this creates feeds burnout, whereas being proactive energizes. Problem solving with your team can bring you closer together, increase buy-in and restore congruence and peace to your days.

    Next:  “Work is love made visible"

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