The other day, I came across an article that caught my attention. It was a survey across all specialties of medicine concerning physician burnout. Ophthalmology, as it always seems to in these surveys, fared quite well, ranking at or near the bottom in almost every category explored. What stood out to me, though, was how some of the other specialties, such as otolaryngology and radiology, had changed significantly in their rankings from previous surveys, going from low burnout rates to much higher ones.
That got me wondering, could the same thing happen to our specialty over the next 10 years? When I think of the changing landscape of ophthalmology that young physicians face going forward in their careers, the answer is probably yes. When I joined my practice 26 years ago, six or seven cataract cases was considered a full schedule. Now, that number is more like 15 or so and will be 20 in a few years. Patient expectations for the services we provide have increased dramatically since I entered practice and only seem to be getting higher. The economics of practicing medicine continue to be an increasing challenge, and the Affordable Care Act and its effect on our future is a complete unknown. I could go on and list numerous other factors, but the point is that the stressors that contribute to career burnout are increasing—not lessening—in our field.
So, what should do you do about it? I say prepare for the real possibility that at some point in your career you are going to seriously question if this is what you want to keep doing. How do you deal with an issue like that? This is where having a balanced professional and personal life comes in. The physicians I have spoken with who seem to have weathered this storm in their own careers all generally say the same thing: The ability to experience great satisfaction from one or several endeavors outside of medicine allowed them to get through a tough time in their practice and reengage with a renewed purpose. That work-life balance doesn’t happen by accident; you have to create it.
In my opinion, there are three components to having a balanced personal life. The first, for me, is being physically active, as there is nothing that quickly reduces stress better than a long run or a tough bike ride. The second is being engaged socially. Spending time with family or close friends can give you better perspective on your problems. The third is being internally creative and taking personal time to feed you inner soul and to do something purely for yourself. For most of us, these things are instinctively part of our lives; however, the pressures of an early career can make us neglect one or more of these aspects, and then, when we need them, they aren’t there.
The New Year is always a good time to take stock of our lives, to set new goals for our careers, and to rebalance the financial portfolio. Make sure you have everything in balance, and, if not, take all necessary actions to do so. It will pay off down the road—on that you can be sure.