Work-life balance: How 5 surgeons manage life in and out of the operating room

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Balancing work, home, and family is an acquired skill. Here, your colleagues offer their best advice based on their own trials and triumphs.


Patrick J. Culligan, MD: We all know that burnout is an important problem among surgeons. In fact, it seems that, in the United States, we are working longer hours than ever before, and that higher education correlates with less balance in life. This dysfunction seems to start in school, when we are encouraged to be competitive, and overwork just becomes another way to compete. It’s very easy to get swept up in the traditional model of academic medicine, the engine of which is competition and overwork.

My impression of our younger colleagues, however, is that many of them are not attracted to the traditional ivory tower research model of academic advancement to which many in previous generations aspired. They seem more concerned with work-life balance as their measure of success rather than the classic metrics of money and prestige. Everyone still needs role models and mentors, though, and that’s where all of you come in. I asked each of you to be on this panel because I admire you for your varying approaches to work-life balance while achieving success as gynecologic surgeons. I thought others in the field might be inspired by hearing your stories.

Cultivating your passions

Kristie Greene, MD: What I have come to learn and appreciate is a really simple point: you do not have to do everything. Determining who you want to be both personally and professionally is step 1.

Granted, answering the question, “Who do I want to be?” is not as simple as it sounds. Many factors figure into the decisions we make in our personal and professional lives. Also, it is not a question we often stop and ask ourselves. From early on, we are placed on an escalator moving up through medical school, residency, fellowship, good job, better job, etc. We are so accustomed to being competitive, to winning, and to wanting to be the best that we sometimes forget to ask ourselves, “What is it exactly that I want, and why? What is my endpoint? And does it make me happy?”

Multitasking is regarded as a talent. As much as we would like to believe that we can do everything at the same time and do it all well, we actually can’t. A friend of mine made me read a book a couple of years ago, called Feeling Good, by David Burns. The book encourages you to consider the different tasks you do in a day and rate how good you are at each of them on a scale of 1 to 10. It then asks you to think about how much enjoyment you derive from each of the tasks and about why you are doing the ones that bring you little to no enjoyment.

I ultimately decided that, for me professionally, the most important thing was my interest in global health. So I decided to do whatever it took to make this happen. But you don’t get something for nothing, and everything comes with sacrifices.

Continue to: Charles Rardin, MD...


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