The Truth About Work Life Balance and Finding Joy in Medicine

By Nadia Sabri, MD

We want to do it all: work, play, parent, live an amazing life. As long as we stay balanced, we can keep adding more things and all is good, right? This approach drives us to multitask and overschedule ourselves to exhaustion instead of contentment. What are we doing wrong? We must not be balancing right.

But what if we’re striving for the wrong goal entirely? Could we be setting ourselves for failure?

As female physicians, we are aware of gender bias, imposter syndrome, work place microaggressions, compassion fatigue, and burnout. Outside of work, we have other personal, social, family, civic responsibilities. How can we navigate work and life stresses, find joy in our medical career, and still have semblance of a personal life? How do we find our place in the world and claim our lives as our own?

It’s not balance that makes us feel like our life is going well. We can be balanced and still unhappy or dissatisfied with our life. We’re really striving for work life satisfaction. Life satisfaction occurs when we find our own unique sweet space between effort and ease. Our specific combination is an ever-changing mix of inspiration, challenges, sense of purpose, novel experiences, leisure, joy, human connection. Each person’s mix is special and specific to that individual.

To determine our unique mix of elements, we must be aware of our needs as people, physicians, and parents. Pick quality of experiences and not quantity. Recognize that priorities change and certain elements need more attention than others. Regularly check in and ask yourself: “do my actions align with my intentions?” Then declutter—emotionally, physically, mentally—to make space for new experiences.

As physicians, we must prioritize our wellness to counteract the secondary trauma of our challenging careers. This means to set boundaries, say no to extra commitments, and practice self-compassion to recharge. It can mean diversifying with a side gig or finding other ways to challenge yourself if feeling stuck or bored. Adjust as needed depending on the changing seasons of life.

My work-life satisfaction mix includes clinical and nonclinical work, creativity, and connection. I enjoy working as an urgent care pediatrician. The acuity and challenge is exciting; however, it’s not my only passion. I love to teach yoga and meditation to physicians, speak at conferences, write, practice mindfulness, travel, social media detox, connect with family and friends. But I don’t do all of these things daily. Some days or weeks I may need more of some elements and less of others. I adjust my work and life schedules accordingly. The options to creating a fulfilling life and career in medicine are endless.

For life satisfaction, don’t focus on balance. Instead, strive towards intentional living and prioritize joy to find the combination specific to your life satisfaction. When things change, it means it is time to check and adjust your combination. You’ve worked hard to get where you are and deserve to create the life you want.

Dr. Nadia Sabri

Nadia Sabri MD FAAP is a board certified Pediatrician, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and certified yoga, mindfulness, meditation instructor (RYT 200). Dr. Sabri is founder of the award-winning blog, The Mindful MD Mom, which empowers parents and professionals to live authentic, intentional lives. Dr. Sabri’s health and wellness tips have been featured in national publications like Thrive Global, The Washington Post, Parents, USA Today, Elite Daily, Doximity, KevinMD, Motherly, MomMD, among others.

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