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Three Steps to Establish a Healthy Work-Life Balance While Still in Medical School

You may not be a practicing physician quite yet, but you will be before you know it. It’s never too early to start habits now that will help you maintain a healthy work-life balance in the future.

Even though you likely decided upon a physician career path because of an innate calling you felt, it’s important to set healthy boundaries between your work and personal life. This may feel like a difficult task given the demands of the job and the feeling that patients depend on you, but setting limitations can help you stay healthy in body and mind as a practicing physician for years to come. Use the tips below to start setting yourself up now for a practical work-life balance.

Define Your Priorities Outside of Academics

This is something you can start while you’re still in medical school. While your studies will consume a lot of your time, knowing what priorities lie outside of school can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Being able to set priorities will be a valuable habit to carry with you into your practicing career.

To define your priorities, begin by focusing on what’s important to you:

  • What makes you happy and fulfilled?
  • What helps you recharge?
  • What interpersonal relationships do you want to nurture?

Preserving this time for activities and relationships that are important to you is what establishes a healthy work-life balance. Understand how you like to spend your free time and actively build it into your daily or weekly schedule. Maybe physical fitness is important to you, so you schedule an hour every day for physical activity. Or perhaps it’s family dinner every Sunday that is non-negotiable.

Along with determining your priorities, you also have to eliminate things in your life that are distractions or not productive uses of your time. For instance, grocery shopping can be time-consuming. If you don’t enjoy spending this time at the store, try ordering online and picking up your groceries, or get them delivered. And if you find yourself tuning out in front of the TV every night, cancel your service and find a more fulfilling way to spend your precious time.

The reality is that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to squeeze in everything you want to do. Identifying your priorities outside of school and nurturing those cherished relationships and activities will help you build healthy boundaries for a happy work-life balance to carry you into the future.

Pay Attention to Your Physical and Mental Well-Being

As a student in the medical field, you know how important health and wellness is not only to your body, but to your mind as well. Medical school can be grueling and burnout can hit you if you aren’t prioritizing your health. Set aside a few minutes every day to check in with yourself.

Ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling?
  • Do I need more rest? Drink more water? More exercise?
  • Who can I talk to about stress I am feeling?

It’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle of daily life to forget to take a moment and tune in to how you are feeling, both physically and mentally. Set reminders on your phone or smart watch a few times a day to listen to your body. You may even try setting aside five to ten minutes every day to meditate in silence to connect with your physical and mental needs. Making this a daily habit will help you identify if there’s a specific wellness need you need to attend to.

Remember, Med School Is Only Temporary. Plan For the Future

With school taking up the bulk of your time, energy, and focus, in the moments you feel completely overwhelmed, remember it won’t always be this way. Taking time to reflect on how your hard work is paving the way for you to have your dream career and the time and resources to build whatever lifestyle you want. To set yourself up to stress less about finances and spending more time on the things you enjoy outside of work, start laying the groundwork now.

You can start preparing for life after med school and training by making some wise financial choices that can make a big difference in your future. For example, creating a budget that gives you a healthy balance between the essentials, savings, and having a set spending amount to use for fun.

We call this the 50/30/20 Rule, meaning the 50% of income is dedicated for necessities (rent, utilities, groceries), 30% is for savings and extra debt payments (grow your savings account or emergency fund, add to retirement accounts, repay debt faster), and 20% is for your wants (eating out, travel, shopping). You can adjust these percentages as needed depending on where you are in your education and training, but this gives you a basic setup for a budget you can use now and adjust once your income increases when you start practicing.

Bonus: Look Forward to Making Your Schedule Fit Your Needs

While in medical school, you can’t control much of your schedule, which is true for many practicing physicians. But what you do have control over is eventually what job you choose and which employer you want to work for.

If you’ve established a healthy balance between your schooling and your personal life and have identified your priorities outside of school you want to nurture, then you already have a good understanding of what your ideal work schedule should look like. Maybe you prefer to work longer hours and fewer days of the week so you can spend those other days on your preferred activities. Or maybe regular clinic hours are better suited for your lifestyle.

Whatever your chosen field or specialty, you should have an idea of what the demands of the job will be and how you can incorporate that schedule into your life. Before signing an employment contract, understand the schedule commitments and attempt to negotiate any aspects that are uncomfortable to you. Annual reviews are another time to negotiate any schedule changes with your employer. Decide if there are any aspects of your schedule that are deal-breakers, and don’t enter into an employment contract you’re not 100 percent happy with.

Expect there to be Hiccups in Your Schedule, It’s Ok!

The truth is that you will likely never have a harmonious work-life balance all the time. Not every day is the same and daily decisions can affect the equilibrium between your work and personal life. However, establishing healthy habits and boundaries can help you maintain control over your life, and having positive, healthy goals are something to strive for. Start healthy work-life balance habits today to help you succeed in the future as a practicing physician.

Physicians Thrive is a dynamic, full-service financial planning company helping doctors take control of their finances. Contact Physicians Thrive now to learn more about how contract review can help you succeed.

Justin Nabity

Justin Nabity is the founder and CEO of Physicians Thrive, an advisory group helping physicians avoid business and legal pitfalls and build their financial education. As a wealth management advisor from a family of doctors, he launched his business by traveling to medical schools nationwide to educate physicians about their unique financial, legal, and business needs. Today, Physicians Thrive has served physicians at over 400 medical centers, hospitals, and medical schools, and 1000 residency and fellowship programs.

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