When Is It Time to Live for Yourself?

Shelly Reese


January 14, 2013

In This Article


In the tug-of-war for your time, do you ever feel like you've lost sight of what's truly important to you? You're not alone.

Physicians have a tendency to put the needs of other people, including patients and their families, before their own, and the demands of their professional activities can become all-consuming. The result? The simple pleasures that doctors need to nurture their own happiness can get pushed aside.

Physicians, who have been trained to endure grueling hours and to sacrifice their own needs to the practice of medicine, may feel caught in a whirlpool, powerless to drive their own futures, says Robb Hicks, MD, a St. Louis, Missouri-based urgent care physician and certified physician development coach.

When Should You Put Yourself First?

Finding the right work-life balance depends entirely on the individual. Two doctors may lead very similar lives on paper, but one may feel fulfilled and engaged while the other may feel frustrated and frazzled.

How do you know when you should start paying greater attention to your own needs?

Be aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior and look for warning signs, says Liz Ferron, senior consultant and manager of clinical services for Physician Wellness Services. Do you dread going to work? Spend a lot of time thinking about retirement? Are you feeling resentful or cynical about your patients or getting feedback that your behavior is disruptive? Are you feeling depressed or having trouble sleeping?

"Balance isn't about how many hours you are working or how many patients you are seeing," Ferron says. "It's far more about how you are feeling."

Maria Lesetz, a certified life coach for physicians in Oregon, says that an external catalyst, such as a child acting out in school, sometimes tips the scales. "Suddenly they recognize the dangers of always working and not being there for their family."

Often the problem builds gradually, says Dr. Hicks, who speaks from experience. For a year and a half, Dr. Hicks worked 7 days a week at 2 urgent care centers he operated. During that time, his marriage foundered, he gained weight, became diabetic, suffered a mild heart attack, and stopped attending religious services for lack of time. Working with a life coach enabled Dr. Hicks to regain his health, balance, love of medicine, and sense of personal priorities. It also prompted him to want to help other physicians by becoming a coach himself.

Although you may not be able to squeeze a 25th hour out of the day, experts say that you can achieve greater work-life balance, but it requires reallocating the way you spend your time to ensure that you make room for the activities and goals that mean the most to you. The secret, they say, begins with recognizing the necessity for change and taking responsibility for effecting it.