Work-Life Balance Is Achievable but Not Always

Jennifer Frank, MD


November 29, 2022

I recently talked with a reader who's still in training. She wanted advice on balancing work and life while being a mom, clinician, and wife. As I began to explain my own path from medical student to resident to physician, which coincided with becoming a wife as well as a mother, I realized that I didn't have the solution to work-life nirvana.

In fact, the approaches I used changed with my life stage and my different professional roles. At various times, I may have had limited after-hours meetings or sought out roles for which after-hours meetings were expected. Sometimes, my husband and I adjusted our family to my very demanding call schedule. At other times, I adjusted my clinical practice to the demands of my children.

There were no absolutes — just the discovery that as my career progressed and my family changed, my desire to honor both the professional and personal aspects of my life required making different choices.

When my husband and I were first married, we prioritized our professional training over the ability to live in the same city. This worked for us, possibly better than if we had lived together, because we both had very long hours and the time we did have together was valued and protected. I look back at those years with great memories and fondness when we were able to focus on each other.

When I became pregnant with our first child, my husband, who is an MD/PhD, chose to stay at home rather than go on to his next level of training so that we did not have to juggle two competing call schedules. Over the years, my time at work has grown and contracted to accommodate my professional role or the needs and demands of our family. The one word that stuck out to me as the most important was flexibility.

It's essential for any young person starting out on a medical career to know that there's no right way to achieve work-life balance. While I believe it's doable, I just don't think it's possible at all times in our lives.

When you have a new baby or are starting an internship, your time is no longer your own. You must meet the demands placed on you by others, and you have limited flexibility and autonomy. However, you are never stuck there. Those moments, while challenging, help crystallize what's important so that when you regain some control over your schedule again (and it does eventually happen), you're better able to discern how to spend your time. The important part to remember is that there's a difference between being compelled to be out of balance and doing so by choice.

As I talked to the young woman about her future career path, I reassured her that what she hoped for herself but feared was not achievable was, in fact, within her grasp. While it may involve sacrifices, she has the ability to flex her future in the same way we all do — to create what is most important to us and a life that honors our desired choices.

What is your advice to your young colleagues starting out on their own journey to work-life balance?

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About Dr Jennifer Frank
Jennifer Frank has the unbelievable privilege of being a family physician, physician leader, wife, and mother in Northeast Wisconsin. When it comes to balancing work and life, she is her own worst enemy because she loves to be busy and enjoys many different things. In her spare time (ha!), she enjoys reading suspense and murder mysteries as well as books on leadership and self-improvement. She also writes her own murder mysteries and loves being outdoors.
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