On Abandoning Unrealistic Expectations

By Steve Barrett
Sunday, September 1, 2019

Which is worse: A) enduring long hours as a physician or B) enduring those hours and spending lots more time worrying about it?

If you said “B,” you are on the same page as Federico Fernandez Nievas, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital in Syracuse, New York, and Danyal Thaver, MBBS, a critical care medicine fellow at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

The decision to practice medicine, they argue in an article in Frontiers in Pediatrics, inherently involves a commitment to working long hours and completing a range of requirements to stay up to date in one’s field. Accepting this reality is key to recapturing balance in life.

Ultimately, that means embracing strategies such as exercising and being with friends and family whenever possible, rather than lamenting the lack of time for those activities.

However, with burnout affecting 44% of U.S. physicians, according to a 2019 Medscape report, the authors caution that accepting the painful realities of life in medicine does not mean ignoring one’s quality of life or tolerating unfair working conditions.

“When searching for jobs, attention should be paid to a broad spectrum of work conditions, and work satisfaction should be considered a priority, not a mere side effect,” they write. “This alone will, in the long run, optimize performance and grant better work–life balance, and ultimately, maximize career achievements.”