Finding Harmony in Personal and Professional Lives

Matthew D. Beal, MD | Cara A. Cipriano, MD, MSc | Joshua C. Patt, MD, MPH, FAAOS, FAOA

August 19, 2020


In this post, we discuss some of critical concepts that will help set you up for a long, healthy, and fulfilling career.

Balance: a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions

There may not be a bigger misnomer in our profession than “Work-Life Balance.” The classic picture of balance is represented by a scale where equal weight is allotted to each side and the two sides appear to reflect each other, gracefully hanging in the air.  While this is a noble goal, it may not be realistic and expecting to achieve it may only lead to frustration. Taking the Hippocratic oath is not like signing a contract to perform a job with set hours and a schedule. It is how we all enter into this profession, dedicating our lives to improve the lives of our friends, neighbors but more often, complete strangers.  By doing so, we often forfeit any aspirations of balance. The concept of “work-life integration” is a much healthier one; it eliminates the immediate notion that work and life have to compete and in a sense be adversarial.

Harmony: the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole

Well-being is a concept that has become common parlance in our profession and has been linked to job satisfaction and career longevity. Well-being can only be found when we achieve a level of harmony in our life.  This, we would argue, not balance, is the aspiration that we should focus on as physicians.  Harmony is a very personal concept. There is no predefined proportion of professional responsibilities and personal time that is taught in medical school or residency. We should learn effective habits and coping skills. We should learn when to say no and when to say yes. We must learn how to prioritize while remaining available for our families and our patients when we are needed.

Opportunity: a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something

Nothing makes a career more fulfilling than taking advantage of opportunities.  Along with that comes the burden of prioritizing and learning how to say no.  It is important to say yes to things that you are passionate about or that fit with your personal or professional development. However, keep in mind that 1) being on 6 committees and 3 task forces that you contribute little to is less meaningful than a few strong contributions; 2) the extra meetings and time away from family may have a significantly negative impact on your pursuit of harmony; and 3) more opportunities will come your way, especially as you build a reputation for meaningful contributions in your area of interest. Take time to sit down with your life partner, mentor, or coach and write down your goals. Be specific about where you want to be in 5, 10 and 20 years.  Then, when faced with an opportunity, ask yourself if it furthers your mission, or might distract focus from it. This can serve as a compass that can guide you through these difficult choices. Strongly consider reading the outstanding book, “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown in which these concepts are beautifully illustrated in depth.

Outside pursuit: an activity of a specified kind, especially a recreational or athletic one

While there will not be an equal balance based on time or effort, the things that you choose to focus on outside of work are essential to finding harmony in your life. This may be a spouse or significant other, children, a hobby, community service or anything that brings you joy, relaxation or just a welcome distraction. This is critical to nurturing your relationships and identity beyond your professional life. Just like you do at work, throw yourself into these things 110%! The time you spend with your family or friends will not recharge your passion if you are constantly checking work emails or worrying that you are getting behind. Take time to concentrate on the things and the people you love; even if you may have a few extra emails to answer the next day, you will have a renewed energy to tackle them!


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Beal AAOS: Board or committee member, American Orthopaedic Association, Board or committee member, Medacta: IP royalties; Paid consultant; Research support, National Institute of Health (NIAMS & NICHD), Zimmer, Stryker, Mako Surgical: Research support, Zimmer: Paid consultant Dr. Cipriano KCI: Paid consultant, Link Orthopaedics: Paid consultant, Musculoskeletal Tumor Society: Board or committee member Dr. Patt American Orthopaedic Association: Board or committee member, North American Spine Society: Board or committee member.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.


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