Finding the Work-Life Balance as a Dual-Physician Family

By: Jeffrey Campbell, MD, MPH, FRCSC | Posted on: 01 Apr 2022

When planning a career in academic urology one of my mentors told me I needed to choose between being a researcher, a good clinician and an attentive contributor to my family. I was told, “You can only be great at 2 of the 3 because there just isn’t enough time in a day.” After really mulling over this concept, I realized that is totally inaccurate. In fact, the only way to be successful in any one of those roles is to be equally great at all three!

I choose to look at the above roles as a collaboration as opposed to independent silos (see figure). All of these responsibilities interconnect, and the only way one can be good at each individual role is to be passionate for the others as well. You can be a great physician by exploring novel strategies to improve patient care, advancing scientific concepts through research and applying experiences as a partner/parent to build rapport with patients. You can be a great academic because you find time to listen, delegate and collaborate with peers, partners and colleagues, and develop new ideas based on patient and personal experiences. Finally, you can be a great parent/partner by loving your job as a urologist, however that may look, but also allocating time dedicated to personal and family interests. The common link to being successful is finding time for self-care. Although a relatively small portion of each day, the center of this diagram is the most important. Find moments to relax, reflect and rejuvenate. I start my mornings with daily gratitude. I try to think of 3 things I’m grateful for that day: 1 from home, 1 from work and a bonus. The bonus is usually coffee.

Figure. The 3 domains for work-life balance.

My wife and I are both busy physicians. We have 3 kids, limited family support and what feels like infinitesimal time while being pulled in a million different directions. We have molded our lives and schedules and found a balance that works. It might not work for everyone, but it works for us. Our type A personalities mean that this involves scheduling, lists and a plan for who is doing what, where and when. Importantly, our priorities are each other first, our kids and then everything else. We share responsibilities, school pickups/dropoffs, cooking meals and choosing takeout for date night. Neither of our jobs is more important than the other. I’ve postponed surgical cases (or gotten them covered by colleagues) and clinic days to look after a sick child so that she can continue her day, and she’s done the same.

I’m privileged in my position at Western University to have been given the opportunity to merge my roles. I’ve delved into qualitative trans health care research after intriguing conversations with my sister-in-law and have collaborated with my wife exploring mindfulness-based therapy for sexual dysfunction and chronic pain. I try to be a role model for my children by demonstrating that 2 parents can work and share home responsibilities and have executed Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Decolonization initiatives for gender disparities in surgery because our children should grow up in a society that respects equality.

I am by no means an expert on work-life balance. I don’t think anyone is. I’ve missed family events because of work commitments, I’ve forfeited grant submissions because I was too overwhelmed, and I still have a manuscript from fellowship that needs to be completed. I find it especially ironic to be finishing this article 4 days after it was requested for submission because my wife was away taking a psychotherapy course for 3 days while I managed the kids. Somehow, my partner and I have made it work, but it has been a steep learning curve. We can offer some tricks on ways to help find your own balance, but please take them with a grain of salt:

  1. Block off personal/family time from your work schedule. Personally, I block between 5:00 and 7:30 p.m. every weekday so I can enjoy dinner and bedtime routines with the kids.
  2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep–don’t agree to a family dinner on a weekend you are on call, and don’t accept a deadline that you can’t meet.
  3. Be present! Put away your phone when you get home with your family or while you are writing that conclusion for your manuscript. Do one thing at a time.
  4. Only commit to things you feel passionate about; otherwise, they will never get done.
  5. Take random days off work, go out for lunch, pick up your kid from school, go shopping, read a book.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help–with childcare, life tasks, difficult cases or grant preparation.
  7. Recognize that you are replaceable to everyone except your family, which is the reason they should maintain a top priority but also the motivation to be joyful in your work.
“The common link to being successful is finding time for self-care.”

Work-life balance looks different for everyone. For some it means working full-time, part-time or maybe not at all. Some move across the country for a “better job,” but others live next door to their childhood home. When reflecting on what work-life balance means I realize a true balance is different for everyone, and in the end, it is whatever brings you joy and makes you be the best you can be in every domain. However, when it comes to the balancing act, the guilt is real! The guilt that you’re not seeing enough patients, that you’re not publishing enough papers or that you’re not spending enough time with family. In the end, you have to find what works for you, but it’s doable. There is a constant need to change priorities based on the day, and that is okay. It is also okay to put some things on the back burner and take care of yourself. After all, you can’t be a good partner, parent, clinician and academic if you don’t spend some time just being a good person.