The CAP offers pathologists resources on transitioning to work and professional development. This article is part of the “If I Knew Then … Insider Advice for Young Pathologists” series and is excerpted from a panel discussion featuring CAP members at the 2021 Fall Residents Forum and House of Delegates Joint Session. Below, Mary Le, MD, FCAP, Adam L. Booth, MD, FCAP, and Rebecca Johnson, MD, FCAP, share their tips and tricks for managing time and creating a healthy work-life balance.
Segment Your Day
Mary Le, MD, FCAP: I've only been practicing for four years, but time management was and still is my biggest hurdle. When I first started, spending 10- and 12-hour days at work was the norm. I didn't realize that some people don’t do that.
But as I quickly found out, that schedule is detrimental to your personal and family life. So now, my recommendation is something I do when I wake up every day. I think of that 24-hour chunk of time I have, and I break it up into three main blocks. The first block is your work block and what can you do in those eight or 10 hours. After that, you need to set time limits, because you need your family time. And you also need your personal time—your wind-down time or your exercise time. If you ignore these latter two aspects of that three-part pie, you are going to face burnout. You will also face backlash from your family. I learned quickly that family and parents get older; children grow up faster than you think they will. And your muscles will atrophy if you're not going to give them exercise.
My tip: Be cognizant of the time that you have in each 24-hour period. And if you're struggling in terms of getting the most out of that workday, ask other colleagues what helps them become more efficient, especially managing things like ditzels. You need to have that colleague where you're going to just show them a ditzel and ask, can I let this case go? These can seem like small things, but I could spend 10 minutes on a hernia sac before I realize it is trivial. Know what you can let go or loosen up on, and then move on to the next case.
Learn to Set Limits
Adam L. Booth, MD, FCAP: I definitely concur, and I have been in practice for just a few months now. I felt the time management pressure early on because I was working really long days. And I started seeing how detrimental it was to my health—eating poorly, exercising less, and overall feeling bad physically.
I had to recognize that this is not training anymore—this is my life. It’s not a sprint with an end in sight; it’s my career. Figuring out a sustainable, healthy day-to-day approach to pathology practice is certainly a learning process. I started by discussing with other junior faculty and learned how they set cut-off times for each day (with obvious caveats) in order to keep a sense of structure and boundaries. And while I’m still figuring out ways to improve my schedule, it’s been beneficial to talk with my colleagues and gain different insights. For me, I’ve seen improvements since I started doing that.
Collaborate on Extracurriculars
Dr. Le: Navigating other interests such as academic research or CAP Advocacy activities also comes down to managing time. I still consider these as part of my “work block” time. But for other career interests at the end of the sign-out day, my advice is to stay connected with other colleagues. You need to be part of a team. For example, if you have residents and medical students around, they often are eager to be on a team, helping to write up research papers. Also, if you have a specialist in your group that sees one particular thing, then we will gather cases as a team and collaborate for greater efficiency. So it is possible, after you're done with your workday, to find time for extra research or engagement.
Take Advantage of Resources
Rebecca Johnson, MD, FCAP: I’d also recommend checking out additional resources. There are some great time management tutorials online. The AMA’s EdHub, for example, has a lot of little snippets of information on how to manage your practice, and how to improve your time management, so I would recommend using some of those resources.
Developing good time management practices can help pathologists maintain a work-life balance and avoid burnout. The experiences shared here—from pathologists at different stages in their careers—provide both a helpful starting point and a valuable reminder. Stay tuned for the next article in our “If I Knew Then …” series.