Integration: Managing the Relationship Between Your Personal and Professional Lives

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

April 7, 2021

As orthopedic surgeons, we have chosen work that is hard, if not impossible, to leave at the office. Accidents, injuries, and complications don’t only occur on weekdays between the hours of eight and five. Academic or administrative work often gets relegated to nights and weekends. More than that, the emotional impact of a poor outcome or the loss of a patient often follow us when we leave the hospital and may stay with us for years.

There has been much discussion about the relationship between our professional and personal lives. It is often referred to as work-life balance, a phrase that can, in several ways, be misleading. First, it ignores the fact that a substantial portion of our life actually occurs at work. Instead, it suggests that work and life are two entities that can be separated and weighed against one another. It also implies that loss on one side equals gain on the other; for example, the more successful you are personally the less successful you are professionally, or vice versa. We know this is not true.

The concept of integration underscores how our professional and personal lives affect one another. We bring our energy, joy, apathy, or frustration from home to work, and from work to home. If you are physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy you will be more successful at work, and if you are professionally fulfilled you will be happier and healthier at home. Our professional and personal lives are synergistic, and the greatest fulfillment is achieved when both are healthy.

This can be hard in training, when many elements of your job feel beyond your control. If you can’t change your situation, try to reconnect with the personal reasons that you chose this profession and how your goals relate to your underlying values. For example, on a challenging rotation, focus on the patient care you find meaningful, the surgical procedures you find interesting, and the fact that you are learning skills that you can build your career on. Lastly, note what  you do or don’t like about different practices and use this to define your own future career. 

It is also important to recognize that integration does not mean absence of boundaries; rather, maintaining boundaries is critical to making integration sustainable. Allowing your work into your personal time and space is a slippery slope, especially if you are passionate about your career and driven to achieve professional success. Establishing boundaries becomes even more important now that emails, electronic medical records, and an increasing number of webinars follow us home. Cell phones easily creep onto our dinner table, join us on walks with the dog, and sleep next to our pillows. The convenience of having the office, or the hospital, constantly at our fingertips comes with the challenge of managing our own integration.

Be thoughtful and strategic when setting boundaries. These are very individual and should be based on what is important to you, and to the people you value. For example, I have personally decided that I always want to be available to my trainees, but I don’t give out my cell phone number to my patients; they can reach me through the office or the on-call team. You may limit the hours when you respond to email, or only work on the computer in your office. Choose your boundaries based on the people, activities, and personal space you value, not by comparing yourself to the work patterns of others.

Integration of the personal and professional is an inescapable reality, but whether it is negative or positive it is for us to determine. Life may not always feel balanced, but remembering the fundamental relationship between personal and professional but will help you to create sustainable integration.

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.

Copyright© 2021 by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

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