Achieving a work-life balance in oncology might seem as realistic as pigs flying. Long hours and emotional stress take a toll on even the strongest-willed people. It may come as no surprise that, in a 2012-2013 survey conducted by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), 52.4% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, “My work schedule leaves me enough time for my personal/family life.” The good news is, if you’re among the many oncologists striving to get it right, there are strategies you can try:

  1. Set aside a little personal time. Some days are especially rough, and managing grief can be overwhelming. It’s on these days in particular when you should carve out time for something you enjoy, whether it’s writing in a journal, running, working out, reading, or even building a model airplane.
  2. Schedule activities with loved ones. You expend significant energy on the job every day, and you may feel you have nothing left in the tank by the time you return home. Setting aside family time – even if it’s just dinner or a board game – can go a long way in strengthening relationships with loved ones.
  3. Make a list. Get in the habit of jotting down a list of things that bugged you during the course of the day, then leave the list at work. This can help you compartmentalize and not take your problems home with you.
  4. Meditate (or at least unwind). There are meditation apps and books galore that can help you combat stress and anxiety, so take advantage of them. Not your thing? Pop on Netflix and catch up on your favorite show.
  5. Eat well. Time is scarce, but that doesn’t mean you should head for the vending machine or drive-thru at every opportunity. Get in the routine of packing a healthy lunch the night before work and you’ll feel more energized at the end of the day.
  6. Remind yourself of all the good you’re doing. You chose such a demanding profession for a reason: to help people. Take a moment each day to think about the lives you’ve positively affected.

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In oncology, and in life, there are variables you can’t control. However, by implementing these strategies you’ll give yourself a chance to find the elusive work-life balance you deserve.


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Shanafelt TD, Raymond M, Kosty M, et al. Satisfaction with work-life balance and the career and retirement plans of US oncologists. J Clin Oncol. 2014;32(11):1127-1135.