From the Starting Line | Striving For Work-Life Balance: Four Women, Four Stories

Delegation, boundary setting, defining career and life goals and making time for life outside of work are among the tips and principles recommended to help achieve work-life balance and prevent physician burnout.

As early career professionals navigate the myriad stresses and pressures of launching their career, while often launching their families, finding balance and establishing a lifestyle that may help stand the test of a long career is challenging.

I talked with four women who are cardiovascular professionals who share their journey and insights. Find more community with the Women in Cardiology Member Section at ACC.org and join their work to advocate for and advance the priorities of the group.

Emily Ruden, MD, is a noninvasive cardiologist at Witham Health Services in Noblesville, IN.

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I started my family during postgraduate medical training, having children during both internal medicine residency and cardiology fellowship. I was keenly aware of the challenges a grueling schedule can have on work-life balance. I also knew very early on that quality time with my family was important to my overall well-being. Consequently, I was very careful in selecting my first job out of training. I cautiously weighed daily expectations with on-call obligations, travel requirements and weekend duties.

Knowing just how challenging achieving work-life balance can be, these factors were even more important to me than financial reward. Fortunately, everyone within my current practice was very honest with me, so I felt like I had good understanding of my commitments going into the job.

Set boundaries: As for the day-to-day grind, I rarely take work/charts home. I look through my clinic schedule the day before, refreshing my memory on patient stories and making notes on labs and/or testing that might be needed. It requires a small effort up front, but the effort is well worth it. I run my clinic on time, allowing for better patient interaction and patient satisfaction. I'm also less likely to miss important details in patient care.

Delegate: Perhaps more importantly, I have learned how to ask for help – and believe me, this is not easy for someone like me! I've learned to "control what I can control," something I tell my patients, and to eliminate unnecessary distractions.

My husband works full time and we've outsourced a tremendous amount of the work in our home – housecleaning, online grocery shopping with curbside pickup and meal delivery twice a week. We're very careful not to overextend ourselves with activities, participating in only one to two extracurricular activities with our children every week.

My husband and I utilize a shared electronic calendar, which keeps us organized and in constant communication, even during the busiest of times. He's a wonderful partner and we share a team mentality, without which work-life balance would not be possible.

Make time for life: It's so important to identify what is most important for your mental, emotional and physical health and to find a way to strengthen yourself in these areas a little bit every day. When I leave the office for the day and shut down my computer, I devote my full attention to my family.

I am very intentional about being emotionally present for my husband and my children when I'm not at work – no phones, no TVs. I'm also very committed to regular exercise, something I do with my family and/or after my children go to bed. There isn't much time left in the day after accomplishing all of these things. But I've learned that prioritizing these areas in my life makes all of us happy and ready to take on another day.

I'm at a point in my life where I ask myself a simple question – will this make me better? If the answer is yes, I make it a priority and do it!

Sarika Desai, DO, is a noninvasive early career cardiologist and founder and chief executive officer of her own cardiology practice, Arizona Heart 360.

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Fourteen years of education to become a cardiologist and you come out of training ready to change the world with everything you've learned. You're bright eyed and optimistic that you've got what it takes. My first job out of cardiology fellowship led to physician burnout and made me reassess my career goals.

Redefine your work schedule: During my first job after cardiology fellowship, I found myself performing five different roles for my health care organization. My job description involved working at two different clinics and the main hospital.

I was unable to practice my passion – preventive cardiology. In addition, I was unable to work with medical students and residents. I got caught up in a work cycle that I had to break. I experienced physician burnout that was made worse by the lack of alignment between my career goals and values and the traditional model of medical practice.

I knew I needed a change, but I didn't know what the change could look like. I kept hearing "private practice is dead," and "you'll never be able to compete with the larger groups in town." But sometimes we're our own worst enemy. It's so much easier to give into self doubt instead of taking a risk at a young age. With the help of my parents, I realized I could carve my own career path. My parents helped me believe that as a young minority woman, I could have it all.

I currently teach at three different universities in Phoenix and I own my own cardiology practice. The Phoenix Business Journal awarded me with the 2018 Outstanding Women in Business Rising Star award for changing my community.

Yasmin Siddiqui, DO, a noninvasive outpatient cardiologist at Rancho Healthcare Center in Las Vegas, NV.

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As a working mother, achieving work-life balance is a priority. It's more than just spending time with my boys. It's about being involved and fully immersed in the details, decisions and moments of their daily lives. I was lucky to have several physicians who were mothers to look up to while I was in training, specifically in cardiology. So I knew it was somewhat of an attainable goal. I searched for a job with this priority in mind.

Redefine your work schedule: In my current position as a noninvasive outpatient cardiologist, I'm home with my family every night and weekend. When I come home, I completely leave work behind. Furthermore, I work with a very understanding group of colleagues, some with more experience than me when it comes to balancing work and home life.

Delegate: Of course, there are days when I come home late, days when there are more patients to see, or echocardiograms to read or tasks to address. These days would be impossible without the support of my husband, who has embraced the role of primary caregiver to our children and dedicated his time to managing our household. Because he takes care of everything else, I can return home and just spend time with the kids. I can't stress enough how important the support from a spouse and/or family is to achieving work-life balance.

The most important thing I've learned so far in my early career is to not be so hard on myself. There's only so much I can do with the limited time I have. I know my priorities and I try to set achievable goals. And some priorities can change from time to time. I may focus on getting my workouts during one week and then focus on reading the next week.

I've also learned to ask for and accept help. If necessary, I hire help, such as for housekeeping or even overnight newborn care. I take the opportunity to delegate tasks at work and at home, whether it's having my medical assistant take care of paperwork or asking our nanny to organize the kids' clothes.

Obviously, no situation is perfect and no solution works for everyone. But if you can find what works for you at the moment and continue to assess your priorities, achieving a work-life balance with some level of satisfaction is possible.

Nephertiti Efeovbohkan, MD, is an interventional cardiologist at NEA Baptist Clinic in Jonesboro AR.

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There are eight interventional cardiologists in my medical group. When I first joined the group, it was overwhelming. I found myself working late into the night and going for days without seeing my children. I had to think of ways to manage being a busy Interventional cardiologist and a mother of two young children.

Set boundaries: One thing that has worked for me is starting my day early. I start my day at 4 AM. This enables me get to work early and prevents me from working late at night. With this early start to my workday, I'm available for my family in the evenings and help prepare my children for school.

Delegate: I'm also learning to use all the resources available to me, including nurses and other clinical support staff. I'm very fortunate to have a lot of support on the home front and my husband and parents fill in for me a lot.

Learn to say no: I've also learned not to take up too many responsibilities. I spend as much time as I can with my family on the weekends when I do not have to work. It's not perfect but I keep striving each day to make a significant impact at work as a female interventional cardiologist and at home as a mother and spouse.

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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 #TheFaceOfCardiology 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, Sleep Apnea

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