Articles and Case Studies

The Balanced Doctor

22 Feb 2013

by Gemma Brudenell

There is no perfect work-life balance. Everyone is different and needs change over time as personal and work commitments evolve. MDA National Education Developer, Gemma Brudenell, outlines strategies that may help you overcome challenges to attaining balance.

Demand among the Australian medical workforce for improved work-life balance is high and often unmet.1 Maintaining personal and professional balance is a challenge that doctors continually face and must constantly endeavour to achieve – medical practitioners are unlikely to be effective and productive if they neglect their own health and wellbeing.2 Being proactive about managing work-life balance will assist you to provide excellent patient care, maintain patient safety and improve patient satisfaction.

Strategies for attaining balance

Suggestions regarding how to attain balance may not always be achievable but serve as ideals to consider and strive towards. Be confident to prioritise your own wellbeing when the opportunity arises and focus your time and attention on aspects that you can control.

Personal approaches:

  • Prioritise developing your personal relationships whenever possible.3 When you plan your week, schedule time with your family and friends, or plan a regular social activity.
  • Delegate time-consuming tasks,2 e.g. hire someone to clean your house, wash your car, do your gardening or mow your lawn. Groceries may be ordered online and delivered, or have your dry cleaning or ironing picked up and dropped off at your home or office.
  • Multi-task. For instance, combine exercise with walking the dog to the shops to pick up small grocery items. Or discover activities you and your friends or family all enjoy and can do together such as exercise, gardening, or cooking.

Professional tactics:

  • Maintain professional boundaries such as overtime limits and avoiding discussing medical issues away from the workplace.2
  • Try to leave your work at work. If you have to bring work home, set aside time when you are not participating in activities that are important in your personal life. Similarly, take time to talk with colleagues about work issues instead of taking this stress home with you.4
  • Plan ahead to allow regular breaks throughout the day and year.2 It may be useful to block out times and dates in your diary in advance for your own and others' reference so appointments are not made. This could include scheduling routine lunch breaks, doctor and dentist appointments, exercise, and family "appointments".
  • Strive to stay on task and on time as meetings, telephone calls and emails can get off-topic and waste time.
  • Take part in flexible work arrangements including job share, shared care/call and flex time where appropriate.

Organisational suggestions to consider if the opportunity arises:

  • Improve administrative systems.5 This can involve receiving more support from administrative staff and nurses which may require team building, improved communication and negotiation skills, and delegating tasks.
  • Examine your daily agenda and consider whether there are inefficiencies that can be eliminated to reduce your workload.
  • Develop your handover system to enable continuity of care rather than continuity of the carer.1

Do not feel overwhelmed by assuming that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. In reality, imbalance simply happens. Set realistic and achievable goals by starting small and then building on the strategies that are important and that work for you at your particular stage in life. Remember that your wellbeing is critical for you and your patients' safety.

¹ Australian Medical Association. AMA Work-Life Flexibility Survey: Report of Findings. 2008 [cited 28 March 2012]. Available at:
². Rowe L, Kidd M. First Do No Harm: Being a Resilient Doctor in the 21st Century. Sydney: McGraw-Hill; 2009.
³. Markwell A, Wainer Z. The Health and Wellbeing of Junior Doctors: Insights From a National Survey. Med J Aust. 2009;191(8):441-4. Available at:
4. Shanafelt T, Bradley K, Wipf J, Back A. Burnout and Self-Reported Patient Care in an Internal Medicine Residency Program. Ann Intern Med. 2002;136:358-67.
5. Walker K, Pirotta M. What Keeps Melbourne GPs Satisfied In Their Jobs? Aust Fam Physician. 2007;36(10):877-80. Available at:


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