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Wednesday Nov 20, 2013

Patient Encounter Offers Reminder About Finding Work-Life Balance

As family physicians, we spend a significant portion of our days telling patients what they should or should not eat, how often and how rigorously they should exercise, and how much they should sleep, as well as offering tips related to bad habits they should stop.

But how often do we take our own advice?

I recently saw a patient, a woman in her early 50s, who we'll call Janice. Janice was struggling with short-term memory problems, forgetting things like paying her bills on time. That costly error led to late fees and additional stress for a woman with an executive-level job, two kids and ailing, older parents.

I completed a thorough evaluation to rule out any physical or mental issues. In the end, Janice simply had too much on her plate, and the stress was getting to her. I suggested that she clear time on her schedule for herself and manage her time better. Sometimes, I said, our own well-being has to move to the top of the priority list, or all the other things on that list will suffer.

After she left, I thought, "That was pretty good advice. I should take it."

Physicians, especially physicians with children, often struggle with being pulled in multiple directions. In addition to the demands of a time-intensive job, we have commitments to family, friends and others. How do we find balance

We deliver important messages to our patients every day, but these encounters also can serve as needed wake-up calls for ourselves. Someone who has completed college, medical school, residency and a master's degree in public health shouldn't have to be told to exercise, rest and eat well, but there I was in need of a simple reminder to take better care of myself.

Less than a year ago, I joined a brand new practice dealing with the typical challenges that new practices face: implementing an electronic health record system, recruiting a health care team and attracting patients. Throw in a family that includes 3-year-old and 6-year-old boys (pictured above), and life can be pretty crazy sometimes.

So now when I need to do something for myself, even little things like finding time to exercise, I put it on my calendar so that important time is reserved for me. If you think, "I'll go for a jog after I take care of X, Y and Z," you can count on A, B and C waiting for you the minute you're finished with Z.

The holidays are fast approaching, and although this time of year can be stressful, it also is a good time to stop and take a look at what we're doing and how we're doing it. In the coming weeks, I'll be asking my patients, "How did things go for you this year? What negative things are you going to leave behind in 2013, and what positives will you take with you into 2014?"

Those are questions we should ask ourselves as well.

Kisha Davis, M.D., M.P.H., is the new physician member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

Posted at 01:08PM Nov 20, 2013 by Kisha Davis, M.D.

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