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Balancing the Bustle: Finding Work-life Balance as a Pharmacy Resident

February 23, 2024

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Colorful graphic with a quote and headshot photo of Michelle Zhou
Work-life balance has always been a struggle for me – through my undergraduate years, pharmacy school and now, residency. During each stage of my education and career, I found myself asking, “How could it possibly get busier and more hectic than this?”

Part of my struggle has been my approach to relaxing. I power through difficult stretches of rotations or exams then relax afterwards. This strategy has worked well with scheduled breaks to recuperate. But it has not served me well in situations where I have only a couple of days in-between stretches. After the first few months of residency, I realized I needed to take a new approach to work-life balance if I wanted to set myself up for success for the rest of the year. Through trial and error, I’ve found some ways to improve my work-life balance.

Pivoting between tasks

Learning to pivot between tasks has been one of the most helpful skills to improve work-life balance.

Historically, I’ve been someone that could only be productive if I had a substantial chunk of time to complete a task. It would be difficult for me to decide to start a task if I knew I only had 15 minutes before needing to move on to something else. What has changed my mind-set during residency has been the opportunity to work on my topic discussions and presentations during down-time. Learning to utilize even five minutes of down-time to read one paragraph of an article or address one small aspect of an ongoing project made a significant impact on my productivity. This approach has allowed me to make incremental progress throughout the day and has significantly relieved the workload on weekends.

Prioritizing personal care

Another thing that has helped me immensely is dedicating time to cooking an actual meal that I can bring for lunch the following day. I used to think that it was more efficient for me to get takeout when I was extra busy, so I could skip the time spent on cooking and cleaning. However, I have since learned that although it does take more time to cook for myself, I often feel better — from a wellness standpoint — when I cook my own food. Additionally, sitting down and enjoying my meal serves as a reminder that taking care of myself is a worthwhile and productive use of my time.

Similarly, I have also come to the realization that sleeping when I am tired or fatigued is not a sign of defeat. Those who know me personally are familiar with my love for napping. In times of high stress, you will often find me taking two-to-three-hour naps in the early evening so I can stay up later to finish my tasks. This type of disrupted and chaotic sleep schedule may be helpful in the short term but it has not been sustainable for me long term. Therefore, I have since learned the importance of choosing a realistic sleep schedule that I can stick to. For example, I realized that I have a hard time staying up after work, so going to sleep early (around 8 p.m.) allows me to catch up on things in the morning when I feel most energized. Although this particular sleep schedule is likely not a great fit for everyone, it is imperative in the long run to prioritize rest.

Being proactive about connecting with friends and family

Another habit I have been trying to change is my tendency to isolate myself when I get stressed. That’s especially true after moving to a new city for this residency. Reaching out to others can feel like a significant barrier at times. My tendency to self-isolate likely stems from wanting to minimize anything that may take extra energy — things that I consider ‘non-essential.’ However, these things actually are essential, and I have found that taking the time to call my friends and family or getting a meal together has always been worth it.

Overall, my major takeaway from this reflection is the importance of prioritizing wellness and being available for the things that I have always considered to be non-essential. Doing so has certainly helped me fend off burn-out and has allowed me to continue enjoying my residency year!

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