Boss For The Day: The Work Life Balance of Physicians

This guest post is the first of our Boss For The Day guest posts. In these posts, I aim to bring you the best content possible to help you manage your position, straight from the desktop of those that know best. If you’re interested in being the Boss For the Day, then shoot me an email. Today’s post comes from Tom, who runs a great site over at High Income Parents. Tom doles out great advice on parenting for high income earners and has dropped some knowledge for us here today. Thank you Tom, and enjoy!

The work life balance of a physician or physician-in-training who is also a mother or father is a difficult thing to master. On one hand, you have a family you love. On the other, there’s never a lack of things to do to further your medical career.

I was once told the whole point of residency is to learn ten years worth of medicine in three or four years. There is some truth to the statement. That’s why we have the long hours and the endless amounts of material to cover. What we learn in that short time will contribute to the health and lives of our patients.

Before attending medical school, I sought a job in the local hospital for exposure to the medical field. The goal was to see if I really wanted to get myself into this business. It was a valuable experience but I met some doctors that were for lack of a better word, douchebags. As a naïve college student, I didn’t understand why a human being could treat another person like some of those doctors did every day.

It was a real eye-opener that a profession I thought embodied the ideals of caring for humanity and compassion would treat coworkers and subordinates with such malice and disrespect.

I vowed to never become like one of those doctors. I think I’ve upheld that vow, but after going through the process, I understand how the doctors for whom I worked reached that malignant attitude I saw then and still see today with some of my colleagues.

We’re taught to be aggressive and take charge. Often times a patient’s life is in our hands and we need to get things done precisely and accurately to save a life. You can’t be timid about those decisions. That training often spills over into our family lives and how we handle our spouse and kids.

The problem is often our spouse and children don’t respond very well when we tell them to jump. The nurse or technician at work may say, “How high?” and trust our decision making. That’s the chain of command, but when we tell our kids to jump, they say, “Why?”


Like most things in life, communication was and still is the key to a harmonious relationship with our families. There are several main things I discuss with my kids and spouse to help them realize what we as doctors go through on a routine basis. Even though they can’t experience our daily lives, we need to convey to them what we experience.

I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing when it comes to difficult patient situations but even for me, I think it is good to share what I see when I go through a difficult situation. Those patients that have bad outcomes can weigh on you. Even if you did everything you could and made the right decisions, we can’t control everything. Sharing that experience with my family has helped them understand what I did during training and even today with my regular day-to-day job. I think it helps them grow closer to me because they get a glimpse of the hard decisions that we as doctors make every day.


When you’re under pressure, it’s difficult to deal with these alone. Sometimes our natural tendency is to hold these in and not bother our loved ones with the troubles we face. This is a mistake.

Likely, the pressure we feel to learn the medical knowledge, practice good medicine that helps our patients and acing the never ending string of tests we take throughout our careers will boil over into misdirected frustration and anger. We should share this with our families.

I’ve been guilty of being short tempered with my kids for minimal things. It might be because of the weight of an upcoming presentation or dealing with a difficult patient. Our loved ones shouldn’t suffer the consequences.

Thankfully we frequently talk about the challenges doctors face and my family is forgiving. Being upfront about the pressures and not letting it get to the frustration level has always worked the best.


Leadership and a take charge attitude are a fundamental aspect of practicing as a medical doctor. When the stuff hits the fan, the hospital personnel look to us to lead them to the best decisions. This helps accomplish our common goal, helping the patient.

Leadership opportunities are a vital part of being a spouse and a parent, but it usually doesn’t manifest itself in the same way. If I started barking orders to my kids without guidance because I expect them to “know their job” it’s rarely effective. Getting down and working with them on their level is much more productive.

Like the BossMD says, we need to know our position.

I’ve also found it helpful to tell my kids and spouse the way things usually work in the medical setting. Since I’m in the OR and things get hairy from time to time, we expect everyone to know their job and perform.

With my older children, I’ve discussed how a code sequence played out or how taking life-saving measures quickly and decisively has rescued a patient from death.

They appreciate the honesty and getting to walk a mile in my shoes. They love that I can share my day with them as they also share how their guitar lesson went, or how the youngest learned to jump off the diving board.

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When we are tired and stressed, patience isn’t very abundant. Working long hours, taking care of stressful patient situations and dealing with administrators tries our patience.

Then we come home and have another set of challenges to overcome. Maybe teaching your 15-year-old to drive or sitting down with your four-year-old to practice phonics are your next duties at home. Discussing how you would teach a nurse to assist with a procedure isn’t going to prepare you for dealing with your kids. Take a step back and remember the way to success.

If I don’t have the capacity to be patient right at that moment because of an especially difficult day at work, I ask the kids or my spouse for a 15 or 30-minute break. I gather my thoughts and tell them I’ll be back to tackle any challenges.

They care about me and understand. Often they even ask if they can help me. We both exercise patience for each other.

Double Lives

Sometimes I think of doctors as superheroes. At work, we are doing things that would be considered assault if we didn’t have permission. We commit these actions because we know they should lead to good.

At home, we are usually mild mannered and don’t always take the leadership role. Our kids and spouses have expertise that we don’t and we should let them demonstrate that knowledge.

It’s kinda nice in a way to not always need to lead the way. It gives us the opportunity to think about the way we treat those who we lead and how we would react to the leadership styles of our coworkers.

Finding the balance between work and family takes requires thought and intentionality. It’s not easy but like all good relationships, it takes both sides working their hardest to help and serve the other. This is especially true with our families. If we want a good balance we should commit to both and give both career and family our all.

How do you cope with the two lives of being a doctor? Do you find it hard to separate them? Is it hard to transition into family life? How do you share your work with your loved ones?

Tom is the creator of Tom is a doctor, husband and father of five with a passion for parenting and finance. When he isn’t skateboarding, riding BMX, or jumping on the trampoline with his kids, he is reading and writing about personal finance. He helps high income parents educate and mentor their kids to become financially, emotionally, and intellectually self sufficient.

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