That was Dr. Karen Sibert's career advice to students considering medicine as an option. She exhorted students, mostly women, to remember that "medical education is a privilege, not an entitlement, and it confers a real moral obligation to serve."
Sibert, an anaesthesiologist, was harsh in her conclusion, stating that if one was looking for a work-life balance, a job in journalism or professional cooking, or law would be a better option.
"Patients need doctors to take care of them. Medicine shouldn't be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life's work," Sibert wrote.
No boundaries between personal and professional linesIndeed medicine does not recognise any boundaries between personal and professional lines, hence physicians are almost twice as likely to report dissatisfaction with their work-life balance as people on other career paths. A lack in work-life balance has also been found to lead to burnout, suboptimal patient care, stress on relationships at home, and poor physician health in general.
Many say that it begins from medical training, forcing a medical student to rearrange his or her life. On call days there is a possibility of at least a 28-hour shift and there is no peace of mind as many worry about their patients.
"Is the medication that we gave them working? Will the MRI show a brain mass? Will they finally be able to go home tomorrow? Will they even survive the night?" poses Steven Zhang, a third-year medical student at Stanford University.
Many doctors and medical students admit that they would prefer a reduction in their work hours, and some even considered going part-time if they could despite the pay cut. However, some argue that doctors should not be placed on an elite pedestal and a work-life balance is possible.
The societal and personal pressures of being a doctorDoctors have been romanticised in numerous TV shows and movies, feeding into a belief that medicine is a grand and noble profession. The importance of their job requires them to work additional hours and additional duties. But Alexandra Charrow, a second-year medical student from the University of Pennsylvania argued that medicine is not the only profession with the power and duty to save lives.
"Air traffic controllers save lives every day. Yet how many shows are there about air traffic controllers? We are not alone in our unwavering responsibility, our duties, and our power," she added.
Sibert framed it in a way that doctors play a special role in society and also that there are too few to justify those that choose to be a part-time doctor. However, forcing physicians to work longer hours or have additional duties is not a solution either.
"I don't know if it's feeling special or a strong sense of duty or what, but on balance, I think more doctors will choose to work more, and coercing more hours out of those that don't is unlikely to do much good for patients," Gina Siddiqui, another medical student at the University of Pennsylvania said.
Time is valuable, find it wiselyFor many doctors, time is much more valuable than money especially in specialties like critical care where their working environment is governed by defined stress. By outsourcing or delegating tasks whenever possible, it promotes empowerment in the workplace. There is also no need to take care of every task when someone capable can do it as well.
Obsessing over the state of a patient with the limited control available, is unhealthy. Scheduling personal time to take care of one's physical, mental and emotional health is vital. Attention should also be paid to a broad spectrum of work conditions, with work satisfaction as a priority, not just as a side effect.
"This (work satisfaction) alone will, in the long run, optimise performance and grant better work–life balance, and ultimately, maximise career achievements," said Dr. Ignacio Fernandez Nievas, a paediatrician in Sycrause, New York. MIMS
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