Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Myth Of The Anesthesia Work Life Balance

Many people have the impression that anesthesiology is an "easy" medical field, that it's all about the lifestyle. That's why it's been consistently one of the more popular specialties to go into, right up there with the other ROAD fields like dermatology or radiology. Well let me tell you, it's not. Anesthesiologists face work life balance issues just like any other intensely focused professional.

I once read that there are only three really important factors in your life: your work, your family, or yourself. The cruel irony is that you can only do two of those three things well. One of the three has to be sacrificed to make room for the others.

Most of the time for physicians, work takes precedence over everything else. That's why the subject of physician burnout is a staple of medical websites like KevinMD the way the Kardashians are all consuming on TMZ. All those missed dinners, getting called into the hospital, answering pages takes a toll on one's physical and personal life. Even if one manages to make it home at a "decent" hour, usually right after everybody else already finished dinner, the time is spent doing homework with kids, reading bedtime stories, or listening to the spouse complain how hard her day has been. What little Me time left is used up to pay the bills and, if I'm lucky, catching up on the day's news before hitting the sack for my nightly six hour power sleep. There is hardly any Me time for hitting the gym, binge watching TV, or tuning out and relaxing. That's the reality of being an anesthesiologist.

Occasionally cases get cancelled in the OR and I actually get out of the hospital while the sun is still out. Those days are all too infrequent and highly treasured. There is enough time in the day to watch the kids play their after school sports, maybe even go out for a nice relaxed dinner. Afterwards, I actually have the energy to make good use of the expensive gym membership that sucks my bank account dry because I'm in too much denial to cancel. Yes those are good days.

The impossibly balanced life
Some people do achieve a near perfect work life balance. You know who those people are? They are the doctors who only work part time. They may work only two or three days per week. They are the ones who organize the social calendar for the medical group, putting together retirement parties and social get togethers. These people are noticeably fitter and cheerier than everybody else since they've got time to go to their pilates class and volunteer for their school's PTA. They're also usually married to other highly paid professionals so they don't need to bust their butts to make ends meet. They're married to their safety net.

So for anybody thinking about going into anesthesiology because of the so called lifestyle, I'm just warning you that it's a total myth. Anesthesiologists work long irregular hours just like any other physician. While at work, the stress is constant as a life is on the balance every time you enter the operating room. There is little time to decompress once you get home before it's time to get up to face another day.

But it sure still beats general surgery.

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