How GPs can achieve a better work-life balance

Professor Rodger Charlton share his tips for making sure you have a healthy work-life balance.

It is important to have an interest outside medicine (Istock)
It is important to have an interest outside medicine (Istock)

As GPs, we seem to talk endlessly to our students and trainees about making sure they have a healthy work-life balance.

When I started at my current practice, I was single-handed for the first five years; now, being an academic and working in a university post and being a part-time GP regularly means that adding the two together may be more than full-time.

The boundaries between work in two different settings and personal life can sometimes be blurred and inevitably, it is one's personal life that may lose out. Here are some tips to prevent this from happening.

Top tips
  • Time off is important.
  • Do not overwork out of hours.
  • Be flexible with GP partners.
  • Use your time wisely.
  • Learn to say no.
  • Have an interest outside medicine.
  • Don't take work home with you.

1 Work-life balance

If we have chosen medicine as our profession, then this should be our passion. However, when I speak to groups of students or GP registrars, I say that to function effectively as a doctor, you should have some time out and have a passion outside medicine to divert your energies. This could be family and an interest like music, running a classic car, or, as it is for me, playing cricket. Diverting your energies temporarily should mean you are recharged and refreshed when you return to the workplace.

2 General practice is busy

GPs are getting busier, whether that is seeing patients to complete their hospital admission avoidance plans, or just the ever increasing numbers of patients who need to be seen with complex medical problems that are difficult to manage in short consultations of 10 minutes. So it is important to make the most of your time off and to plan ahead for things such as holidays.

Unlike hospital doctors, our freedom depends on our working relationships with our partners

3 Time management

This is a buzz phrase, but nevertheless true. Being able to work virtually off-site or attending numerous CCG meetings means it is best to try to complete your work while you are on the surgery premises and to ask yourself if you really need to go to every lunchtime or evening meeting that takes you away from patient care and the many tasks you need to catch up on, such as a referral or chasing the result of an investigation. Your time is precious, learn to say no and use it wisely.

4 Out of hours

Currently, GPs do not have to work out of hours, although we could soon end up being responsible for providing cover for our patients seven days a week.

Time off is important, so try not to work excessively in an out of hours service, unless you need to. It is good to help out, but be careful not to work all the hours of the day and night.

5 Flexibility

If you work in a partnership, flexibility is the key to achieving a good work-life balance. We are all human and you and your partners may need time off, for example, to attend a parents' evening, spend a special day out with your family or be available for unexpected events such as a funeral.

It is important to allow your partners to do these things at short notice as you may also need their agreement for you to do likewise. Unlike hospital doctors, our freedom depends on our working relationships with our partners.

6 Our virtual world

The internet and email has completely changed our work-life balance as we bring the office home with us and there is no longer a closing time.

Emails with multiple attachments or 'replies to all' can make you feel there is a never-ending workload and under constant pressure. Soon another floodgate may be opened, with email and Skype consultations.

  • Professor Charlton is a GP in Hampton-in-Arden, and director of undergraduate primary care education at the School of Medicine, University of Nottingham

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