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    Finding time for a personal life outside of medicine

    As a physician, finding time for a personal life outside of the daily pressures of a medical practice can be daunting. 

    Working to improve patients’ health while meeting government and payer regulations, keeping an eye on practice finances and managing a staff often leaves today’s doctors with little extra time or energy. Fortunately, many physicians do find ways to have a fulfilling life both inside and outside of their practice.

    For this year’s Physician Writing Contest, Medical Economics asked readers how they achieve a satisfying work-life balance. The result is a series of personal and professional anecdotes on how being a physician doesn’t mean sacrificing other interests outside of practice. Physician authors shared their own approaches and provided peer advice knowing that there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits all solution to maintaining balance.

    In this issue, we present our contest winners for 2017, selected by our editorial team and physician advisers. In future issues, we’ll present honorable mention submissions offering additional tips and insight from physicians to physicians.

    FIRST PLACE

    This Wednesday

    By Sigrid Johnson, MD

    When I was a child, the oldest of three children, Wednesdays were always a mystery.  That was the day my parents had to themselves—either in their room, or on walks or other adventures children could only imagine for them. My mother was a registered nurse, and my father was a social worker—in the 1960s, they brought home $4,800 per year between the two of them.

    Still, every Wednesday, they both took off from work, and from family, and enjoyed each other. They did that their whole married life. I grew up thinking that it was normal to have a mid-week vacation every week in a marriage.

    When I walked across the stage to receive my medical degree, I was six months pregnant. My three children came at the most stressful times during my budding career—my intern year, my third year as a resident and my first year in private practice as a rural family physician. Still, at least once a week, my husband and I escaped together. We could usually be found hiking, camping or horse riding.

    Private practice gifted me back the Wednesdays I remembered from my youth. I started taking off every Wednesday. In earlier years I raised my children on a farm, and those days were filled with making jam and cookies in the kitchen, and playing with the horses and chickens. We would get baby chicks from the co-op every spring, and teach the children how to raise them. Our free range chickens laid about a dozen eggs a day—giving us the equivalent of an Easter egg hunt every day!

    Work was busy to be sure. I had a busy solo rural family practice that included high-risk and operative obstetrics. Fortunately, I had the best patients a physician could possibly find—they knew I was a young mother with other interests and never called me for frivolous things.

    Usually patients who came up the driveway had issues like the neighbor with atrial fibrillation with a heart rate over 200 who I had to put in my car and drive to the hospital.  Or the time a patient couldn’t get a wood stake out of his Labrador dog’s leg and I opened the office on a Saturday to remove it and staple the leg back together. Or the Christmas I missed opening stockings with the children to deliver a baby—to their frustration.

    To help with the increased demands of the practice while guarding my Wednesday time off, I hired more staff—a nurse practitioner and another nurse. As the paperwork demands grew, I also hired a medical records clerk and got a lab tech.  

    As my children grew, and our interests changed, our Wednesdays started to fill with music and dance. I took up ballroom dancing, and even participated in our local “Dancing with the Stars” competition.  I also had my time diverted to school sports—following my children through the south with their soccer games, lacrosse, choirs, musicals, horse shows, violin concerts and more.

    I started to become possessive of more than my Wednesdays—I wanted some of the weekends as well. Sunday had always been family time: church and family dinners and time to practice musical instruments. Now it was also time to get away and travel, sometimes with children, and sometimes without. I started attending conferences in exotic locales—South Africa, Mexico, Florida, Canada.

    Traveling was wonderful— opening my eyes to how medicine worked in other cultures. It refreshed my outlook and helped show my daughters it was possible to have fun while working hard.

    Now, it is my first quiet year in a long time. My children have all gone to college. The days remain busy at work, and still challenging and often frustrating, but the evenings have become very long. The first week I was an empty-nester I looked around the house and asked, “What now?”

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