This is second in a work/life balance series written by members of the STFM Group on Women in Family Medicine. Jessica T. Servey, MD, Col(sel), USAF, MC is the author.
Despite the fact that in 2010 29.3% of active physicians in the United States were women, significant concerns regarding work-life balance among women still exist.1 The challenges faced by women physicians as a group are relatively unchanged for the last 4 decades despite the increased number. In fact, the concerns about work-life balance have been studied and written about since 1970. The main challenges include timing of having children and the guilt associated with maternity leave, lifestyle, and career choices and seeking this nirvana called “balance.”2 I continually am amazed how I have the same conversations with residents and students today as I did 12 years ago. More astounding to me is the persistent challenges for women in academic medicine.
There have been numerous studies, both quantitative and qualitative, completed in the past 20 years about how to reach this balance. It is agreed that organizational culture can play a role in not achieving any balance in life. Additionally, lack of effective mentoring and potentially lack of support from division leaders can be cited as reasons why women struggle in advancing careers in academic medicine. Many women make conscious decisions to reach this balance, which may include working fewer hours, declining a promotion, or limiting the number of children she has.3 It is disturbing to me that an article looking at reasons women left academic medicine completed just 2 years ago have respondent comments about “the old boys’ network.” The Association of American Medical Colleges has statistics with women associate professors still lagging behind men despite nearly 50% of medical school matriculates being female. I am not certain there is a clear answer for achieving this illusion called work-life balance. I do think there are a few tips for women to reflect on.
First, define your own priorities. This gives you control over your life. You can answer if you want that academic promotion, or if you want to do research over clinical care. You can decide whether you choose to get married or have children. Only when I made a list of my priorities in writing so I could look at them anytime, did I feel I had some semblance of control. I can choose what I will not miss. For me, I never miss the first day of school and taking that picture. This year will be number 16 for me.