Work-life balance best learned in residency to meet career-long demands of the profession

LETTER — Posted Oct. 16, 2006

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Regarding "Residency is not the right time to pursue extracurricular interests" (link): The recent article about flexible residencies was heartening because it is high time residency caught up with the reality of most physicians' lives. The fact that we needed to legislate an 80-hour work week is a sad commentary on the lack of work-life balance inherent in this crucial period of training.

The letter criticizing these new choices is disappointing but predictable. Change happens slowly, especially in entrenched areas, and no vocation is quite so traditional (except perhaps the military) as medical training.

There are early adopters who make change; there are also those -- residents themselves, unfortunately -- who contribute to a culture of overwork for themselves as well as those around them. There is also the mistaken assumption that one can magically achieve a balanced life the day residency ends. Not so; it is during residency that one has to learn behaviors to emulate in attending-hood: medical excellence, courtesy for other practitioners, and work-life balance.

I for one am not interested in contributing to the traditionally high divorce rate among physicians, nor on missing out on time with my family or my meaningful extracurricular pursuits. I am glad I attempted to carve out time for all these when I was in residency, while maintaining a demanding academic regimen. I supported those who chose to seemingly live in the hospital, as long as they did not impede or judge my way of doing things. Strangely though, the reverse courtesy seemed rare.

It is about time we -- educators as well as residents -- acknowledged rather than disparaged different needs and aims in residency, and started supporting each other's professional development.

Omar A. Khan, MD, Wilmington, Del.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/10/16/edlt1016.htm.

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