5 Tips for Work-Life “Balance” in Residency

Work-life balance is an increasingly discussed concept, yet challenging to master as an orthopaedic surgeon, let alone a resident in training. The idea of work-life balance is misleading, as work and life should not be in opposition to each other and are rarely in proper balance. Work-life harmony, integration, or management may be better ways to define their relationship correctly. With this in mind, several principles have been helpful in our lives to maximize happiness and minimize burnout throughout residency.

1. Be Present
It seems simple but being present in daily activities is impactful. Whether with a patient, during a lecture, or with loved ones at the dinner table, truly listen and engage. If able, put the phone down and distractions away to fully immerse yourself in the task at hand. Multitasking is essentially doing many things poorly. Time is our most valuable commodity and during residency, it is a resource that should be cherished. Limiting distractions during particular occasions can augment your ability to be present. This will make for increased productivity and more meaningful communication at work and home.
2. Don’t Forget Your Health
Although diet, exercise, and sleep are periodically sacrificed during residency, maintaining your health is paramount to optimizing every other aspect in life. Remember that this does not need to require a large amount of time. Even just 15 minutes a day of activity can improve your mood and provide increased energy. Additionally, one extra healthy food choice daily can add up over time. Set a small goal to include something in your day that brings you joy. Continuing facets of life that reenergize you mentally, such as your faith, personal relationships outside of medicine, meditation, or hobbies, as these will help foster personal balance.
3. Manage Your Time Effectively
Developing excellent time management is foundational to optimize work-life harmony in residency. Clinical duties and call shifts are not very flexible, but you do have the ability to prioritize and schedule time for family, studying, research, and leisure. Make lists and set goals—this allows you to visualize what needs to be done and bracket the necessary amount of time for each item. In addition, utilizing small snippets of time effectively throughout the day will free up time each evening after work. Whether you are studying with a podcast during a car/train ride or catching up on emails between cases, don’t let any minute go to waste.
4. Have Realistic Expectations
In today’s world, realistic expectations are hard to find, and comparison to others can be dangerous. Remember, you can’t do it all. This isn’t something that we enjoy hearing, but we can unknowingly fall victim to an unmanageable number of responsibilities quite easily. Ortho residents pride themselves on excellence, drive, and grit, not thinking twice about taking on extra duties. However, taking on too many things can ultimately affect performance, as you may begin to miss deadlines or submit suboptimal work. Reflect and understand when you can say “no” to protect time for what you are most passionate about in residency.
5. Embrace the Journey
Residency is a marathon, not a sprint. Maintaining flexibility is necessary, as the “balance” in your work and life will fluctuate from week to week. We hope that the aforementioned suggestions can help guide general principles without establishing rigid life rules that will only lead to impracticality and undue stress. Remember why you worked so hard to get to residency in the first place and reflect on the mentors, colleagues, and patients that make it worthwhile. Burnout and compassion fatigue are real, so recognize them and pace your life accordingly. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling.