“You can sleep when you’re dead,” the surgery attending said to me in 1989 when I showed up from the call room a minute late for rounds. As funny as it sounds, I believed him. Surgery work-life balance has never been a thing. In fact, this mindset has been part of surgery’s (and medicine’s) hustle culture for years. Broken personal lives were sadly worn as a badge of honor.
But it turns out that nobody on their death bed regrets not spending more time at the office.
Or in the operating room, apparently.
This study reported in JAMA found that over 60% of retired surgeons regret not having achieved a healthier work-life balance in their careers. The authors suggest a possible explanation for this contradiction could be that, despite their desire for a healthier work-life balance, earlier generations of surgeons practiced in an era when workplace requirements, professional regulations, and cultural norms were not conducive to a constructive debate on work-life balance.
There are a number of fascinating angles around this survey. I found the results unexpected and a little tragic. Perhaps they see that some semblance of surgery work-life balance is now possible and regret practicing before this kind of cultural change had taken hold.
More physicians are making the conscious decision to choose time over money. This report in the Wall Street Journal (paywalled) last week suggested that approximately half of all physicians in a recent survey would take a substantial pay cut in order to achieve better work-life balance.
Perhaps they recognize that the best investment of our limited time on earth is to spend it with people we love.
And what’s worse than the regret of a life unfulfilled in this way?￼
The modified image here is from the National Library of Medicine.
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