Work-Life Balance: 5 Ways to Have a Life During Residency

work-life balance

As medical students and residents, we become accustomed to living our lives in year increments. Four years for medical school, three to five years for residency, a couple years for fellowship, research, and so on. While many of us like to think we are putting our life on “pause” as we complete our medical training this just isn’t possible. Life is happening all around us every day. Many physicians look back on their training and feel like they missed a decade or more of their life—but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some tips to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Get to Know the People & Places Nearby

As the name “resident” implies, you are basically taking up residence in a hospital and the few miles surrounding it. The majority of your time will be spent there with your co-residents. Many lifelong friendships and professional connections are cultivated during these training years. Find ways to have fun together outside the hospital. Check out local community events, look for volunteer opportunities, or explore new places right in your neighborhood.

Keep in Touch

work-life balance

While you’re busy meeting new people, don’t forget to keep in touch with your friends and family. Communicating via text, email, or a phone call can go a long way when in-person visits aren’t possible. If you are on the receiving end of one of these messages don’t ignore or take forever to respond. Though your friends and family may know you are busy, their time is also valuable and no one likes to feel forgotten or dismissed.

Prioritize Plans

You will likely be invited to various social events during your training and residents are notorious for missing these. Erratic schedules and lack of vacation time and funds make it difficult to commit. Prioritize which events are most important to you and your loved ones. Try to make an effort but don’t feel guilty if you cannot attend. You will have much more flexibility in the future to take part in all the social events you want (or don’t want) to attend!

Start the Family

work-life balance

Feeling ready to start a family? You are not alone. About 40% of residents plan to have children during their graduate medical education training according to a recent study featured in Academic Medicine 1. There really is no “perfect” time to have children and while having children in residency can be challenging, some may argue that it’s actually easier having a child during residency rather than during practice. As a resident, you may be able to front-load your call schedule or more difficult rotations before the baby arrives. Making up time for parental leave and graduating “off-cycle” won’t really matter in the long run. Just make sure you have a game plan for child care. It truly does take a village to raise children so don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Take Care of Yourself

Becoming a physician requires a lot of sacrifices. In the midst of taking care of others don’t forget to make your own health a priority. Schedule your routine health maintenance, get regular exercise, and explore interests outside of medicine. Remember that medical training is a special time of professional and personal growth. Finding a work-life balance now is key for a successful future as a physician.


  1. Bair JE, Mayer AP, Caubet SL, et al. Pregnancy and Paternal Leave During Graduate Medical Education, Academic Medicine. 2016; 91(7): 972-978.

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