In the early days of the republic, much thought was given to limiting power among the various established societal institutions at the time. The leaders of time understood that there had to be limits to the influence of religion on statecraft. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that there should be a “wall of separation between church and state” as established by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. What does this have to do with work life balance? Read on …
As we progress in our leadership journeys, we need to be available to an increasingly wider group of people for increasingly more amounts of time. As a junior faculty member, I was only responsible to my patients and the call schedule. Now, as a Division Chief, I am “on” 24/7/365 for any issues that may arise. These calls and e-mails may come from any and all parts of the institution and health system. My progression up the leadership rungs has roughly paralleled the rise of smartphones in our society. As such, we have all found ourselves checking and responding to e-mails while at the grocery store, the movies, on family game nights, date nights, and on vacation. The irony here is that I have been a fierce advocate for work-life balance my entire career.
In 2015, I was appointed Section Chief of Consultative Medicine at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and we were gearing up to go live with a new EMR in spring 2016. My responsibilities grew and, as a part of the EMR implementation, we had the option of enrolling our personal phones into the IT infrastructure or opt for a second, institution owned phone. For privacy concerns, I opted for a second phone governed by the institution, keeping my personal phone personal.
Despite the added inconvenience of carrying two phones around during working hours (not to mention that one is Android while the other is Apple), I quickly came to appreciate the benefits of having “work” on my work device and “life” on my personal device. I started leaving my work phone on the charger as soon as I came home and did not look at it until the next morning. Due to two-factor authentication, it takes some effort to check my work e-mail on my personal phone. I found myself not checking work e-mails at the dinner table. I would leave it at home during date nights and vacations thereby allowing me to focus on what is important—my family and friends.
When I moved institutions to become Division Chief in February 2020, I had to give up the company phone. My new place did not provide a separate device, firmly belonging to the camp of “bring your own device.” I thought about going back to one phone for everything, but quickly realized that the balance I had achieved would be lost. Also, my personal phone number would be spread across the whole enterprise, from the call schedule to the pharmacy, and subject to leaking out to the wider world. So, at my own expense, I purchased an iPhone SE on an inexpensive data plan and have been using it as my work phone ever since. I spend less than $400 a year on the separate line, and, for me, it is an investment towards achieving that balance that I seek.
My entire team, including institutional leadership, knows my personal phone number and how to get a hold of me if I don’t respond to calls or texts to my work phone. They also know that I don’t expect them to be available 24/7/365 to me. If I do send the occasional e-mail or text after hours, there is no expectation of immediate response, something I make clear to them repeatedly. Conversely, the family is ecstatic that I have an Apple device! Since I work for a publicly funded state institution, I have nicknamed my work phone “State” and, therefore, my personal phone becomes “Church” as it is sacrosanct to maintaining a semblance of work and personal life separation.
ACLGIM, Advocacy, Career Development, Leadership, Administration, & Career Planning, Medical Education, Wellness
Dr. Sahai (email@example.com) is professor and division chief of general medicine at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.
Primary care physicians are seeing a growing number of patients struggling with…