From the Starting Line | Tips for Early Career Success: Work-Life Balance

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In my April article, I provided several tips and principles to maintain a healthy work-life balance. These include setting boundaries, defining work and life goals, learning to say no, delegating tasks, redefining work schedules and making time for life outside of work. Although women usually endorse more dissatisfaction with work-life balance, men also face this challenge. This month — with Father’s Day just around the corner — two men who are early career physicians share how they’ve used these tips and the difference it’s made in their journey towards greater work-life balance. In the next column, two women who are early career physicians will share their stories.

Evan D. Ownby, MD, FACC, is an interventional cardiologist at Stroobants Cardiovascular Center in Lynchburg, VA. He completed his interventional fellowship training in 2013 and has been in a hospital-owned clinical practice for five years.

Ijioma: What practical steps have you taken to achieve work-life balance?

Ownby: First and foremost, it’s important to find your right fit for a job. Your first job after training may not be your last, and increasingly it’s not. Take time and do your homework. As best you can, get to know your future colleagues and team members. As an interventional cardiologist, I paid attention to my future partners in the lab. Meet their spouses and even families if possible. Learn what they do when they are not at work. Their work-life balance is, perhaps, the best predictor of your future work-life balance.

Keep in mind what you want to do outside of daily tasks in cardiology to define your goals. This may not be purely family responsibilities, leisure activities or hobbies. It may include leadership opportunities in your hospital, practice or professional organization. My current practice places a particular emphasis on providing leadership opportunities to early career physicians. Staying involved in the management end of your practice, whether involved in outreach, quality improvement, committee membership or otherwise, helps to diversify your career. While it may seem this would only increase your workload, for those with an interest it can provide a variety to your career that curtails potential burnout from monotony. I’m am a member of the ACC Leadership Academy Cohort II and I volunteer my time to serve the ACC on various committees.

Consider things you do on a daily basis that contribute to your stress and try to find ways to delegate them. For many physicians, this list includes navigating inefficient electronic medical records and keeping up with a never-ending inbox of tasks. I’ve found a scribe in the outpatient setting to be an invaluable resource to decrease the stress of daily responsibilities. A skilled and efficient scribe increases my attention and satisfaction with my patient interactions, allowing me to focus on what will best help my patients, rather than clicking all the necessary boxes. While the use of a scribe can be expensive, it has proven itself worthwhile in both reducing work stress and increasing efficiency.

Paul Chacko, MD, is an electrophysiologist (EP) at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo, MI. He graduated from EP fellowship training in 2017. His career pathway is unique — he worked as an internist for five years, before deciding to return to pursue postgraduate fellowship training in cardiovascular medicine and EP.

Ijioma: Paul, you’ve been an early career physician twice: as an internist and as an EP. Your spouse and kids have been quite patient. Please share how you strive for work-life balance in your early career journey.

Chacko: Before graduating from EP fellowship training, I defined my goals. I weighed the balance of what could offer me professional satisfaction and meet my personal needs. I carefully reviewed potential career opportunities and the level of work compensation offered because I’m the sole income provider for my family and because work-related injuries can affect the longevity of practice in EP. After much deliberation, I chose a hospital-employed position, which was two hours away from home, over other private practice groups. Although this choice meant I’d have to sacrifice some family time with my three children, it’s the right fit for me at this stage of my career. I don’t feel the need to rush through work, and I spend sufficient time with my patients and hone my clinical expertise. In a few weeks after graduation, I found my work groove and could carry out cases with adequate speed and good outcomes.

I rented an apartment adjacent to the hospital and go home to my family every third day and on non-call weekends. Being just two hours, I can go home easily for a school performance or an urgent matter. Management of our home life is handled by my wife, who is a homemaker and very effective. We carefully discussed our work-life situation and my family is aware that I’m prepared to make a different employment choice if the need arises.

There’s no magic or perfect formula to work-life balance and it’s different for everyone. Most of all, it’s probably always a work in progress requiring recalibration as circumstances change. Although our early career pathways and personal situations may be different, there are overarching principles we can apply to help us with this balancing act. Work-life balance and addressing physician burnout is part of the ACC’s 2019 - 2023 Strategic Plan. And the College has joined the Action Collaborative on Clinician Well-Being and Resilience led by the National Academy of Medicine.

What measures have you adopted to achieve work-life balance? What barriers prevent you from achieving balance? How can the ACC help you?

Share your thoughts on Twitter. Tag @ACCinTouch and include #CardiologyMag and #worklifebalance in your tweet.


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Nkechi Ijioma, MD, FACC, is an interventional cardiologist at Altru Health System in Grand Forks, ND, and clinical assistant professor at the University of North Dakota.

Clinical Topics: Prevention, Stress

Keywords: ACC Publications, Cardiology Magazine, Spouses, Workload, Personal Satisfaction, Burnout, Professional, Committee Membership, Leadership, Hobbies, Fellowships and Scholarships, Quality Improvement, Outpatients, Work-Life Balance, Goals, Occupational Injuries, Physicians, Group Practice, Personnel Staffing and Scheduling, Private Practice, Employment, Volunteers, Electronic Health Records, Cohort Studies


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