In recent years, Americans’ desire for balance between work and personal life has grown substantially. In the Huffington Post, Chad Brooks recently discussed a 2013 Accenture study that found over two-thirds of US employees now believe they can have a rewarding career as well as a fulfilling life outside of the workplace. It is no longer enough for many workers to be successful in their fields; they also want to have a high-quality personal life.
Unfortunately, not every career is easily adapted to achieving a successful life/work balance, particularly those in health care. Doctors and nurses in particular have long been expected to work extended hours and to have a powerful commitment to their careers. Those working as NPs (individuals who are providing much-needed health care services in a struggling and understaffed health care system) are finding the same difficulties in creating a sustainable balance between career and life outside of work. The rewards of working as an NP are significant, but sometimes it is a true juggling act to find the balance that every person needs to live a healthy life.
The Growth of the NP
The substantial demand for NPs has led to rapid growth in the numbers of those entering the NP workforce, according to Medscape. Studies suggest that there will continue to be substantial growth in the industry for many years to come, with an increase of 94% from 2008 to 2025 currently projected.
There are plenty of people eager to enter the field. But into what kind of life are they entering? Are NPs experiencing the same type of lifestyle as doctors of previous generations, putting in 80-hour weeks as a matter of course and expected to devote virtually every waking moment to the practice of medicine? Or are they able to find a more modern balance and live the kind of lifestyle similar to the goals of many Americans?
There are no black-and-white answers to these questions. NPs work in so many different environments, from hospitals to private practices to college campuses, that there is no standard for the actual work life of an NP.
The lack of practicing physicians in the US is well known and no less of a problem than it was 10 years ago. NPs are picking up a lot of the slack in health care created by these gaps, and the health care industry is better off for having so many qualified professionals available. However, the manner in which they fill those gaps varies considerably from individual to individual.
The Balancing Act of the NP
On Midlevel U, which describes itself as “The Online Hub for Midlevels,” an NP wrote about a day in her life. She discusses her satisfaction with a regular 8-to-5 job in a primary care clinic, something that her NP friends do not enjoy. She works 4 days a week and chooses to have Thursdays off. Part of her work agreement includes working half days on Saturday and Sunday for a single weekend each month.
This NP sees an average of 20 to 26 patients each full day of work. Her daily responsibilities are as expected: checking lab results, seeing patients in various states of health, and managing both patients who are interested in maintaining their own health and those who expect the NP to do it for them. Overall, she says that she loves her job. She enjoys helping people and tackling the challenges of healing others.
Looking at this one example, it is easy to imagine this particular NP having a good balance between work and life. Working 4 days a week (from 8 to 5, no less) is a schedule many people would enjoy. The commitment to 1 weekend a month does not seem overly taxing either. However, it is important to remember that the writer specifically stated that not all of her fellow NPs enjoy such a convenient schedule.
Another article on Midlevel U reveals the levels of stress encountered by health care professionals. In it, the author discusses how to avoid burnout as an NP, noting that a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine stated that 46% of physicians go through at least 1 aspect of burnout. Examples of burnout include emotional exhaustion and low personal accomplishment. The writer emphasizes that the rates for NPs are probably quite similar.
Being an NP is incredibly challenging, so it is expected that those in the field will be under enormous stress. Even though the joy of helping and healing is immeasurable, there are still many instances where success is not guaranteed. Patients get sick. Patients get worse. Some patients die. Given these circumstances, the seemingly easy 8-to-5, 4-day-a-week schedule might not be as forgiving as it first appears. For those working more challenging schedules, such as graveyard shifts or 80-hour weeks, the toll is probably much worse.
Learning to Say No
The NP discussing burnout on Midlevel U has a very simple piece of advice for those seeking to maintain a healthy work/life balance: learn to say no. Coworkers will ask to have shifts covered. Management will request additional work when it is needed. Even family will sometimes demand more than a person is able to realistically provide. It is not always possible to satisfy all requests.
Everyone should understand their capabilities. It may take some time if new to a job, but it should be quickly realized how much is enough, and how much is too much. If an NP is reaching his or her limits, the best way to avoid burnout, and to ensure quality of life, is to say no.
- Brooks C. Career success means work-life balance, study finds. Huffington Post website. March 5, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/05/career-success-means-work-life-balance_n_2812707.html.
- A day in the life of a family nurse practitioner. Midlevel U website. August 22, 2012. http://www.midlevelu.com/blog/day-life-family-nurse-practitioner.
- How can nurse practitioners can achieve work-life balance? Midlevel U website. January 29, 2013. http://www.midlevelu.com/blog/how-can-nurse-practitioners-can-achieve-work-life-balance.
- Scudder L. Growth of the nurse practitioner workforce. Medscape website. April 12, 2012, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/761728.