Gaining work-life balance one small step at a time

Faculty development leader offers help and hope to women (and men) in medicine

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

May 03, 2012
   Stephanie Abbuhl, MD

Balancing the competing demands of professional and personal life remains an elusive goal for men as well as women, especially for those in the exceptionally rigorous fields of medicine and biomedical research. On Thursday, April 26, Stephanie Abbuhl, MD, vice chair of emergency medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Medicine), shared a message of progress and hope for the future of work-life balance in academic medicine—and practical advice on how to get closer to achieving it—in two UMass Medical School forums. Dr. Abbuhl’s Leadership Speaker Series morning lecture and afternoon workshop were both sponsored by the Office of Faculty Affairs.

In her presentation “Advancing Women in Medicine and Science,” Abbuhl discussed research and advocacy, as well as her own personal experience in raising a family while ascending the ranks to become vice chair and associate professor of emergency medicine at Penn Medicine, where she is also executive director of the school’s innovative FOCUS on Health & Leadership for Women program. Established in 1997 to improve the recruitment, retention, advancement and leadership of women faculty, and to promote women’s health research, FOCUS received the AAMC’s Women in Medicine Leadership Development Award in 2004.

FOCUS initiatives further led to Penn Medicine being awarded a National Institutes of Health RO1 grant for TAC (Transforming Academic Culture)Trial, on which Abbuhl is co-principal investigator. The goal of this pioneering trial is to study a cluster-randomized, multi-faceted intervention in an entire school of medicine, aimed at improving the academic productivity and job satisfaction of women faculty.

In the workshop “Work-Life Balance: Taking a Proactive Approach" Abbuhl shared her expertise in a more personal setting. Several women and one man, all UMass Medical School faculty members, researchers and program directors, participated in a hands-on exploration of ways to focus and improve their efforts to reduce stress, make time for themselves as well as family and friends, alleviate guilt and, hopefully, achieve better harmony, if not equal balance, between their work and home lives.

With support from one other, each participant left the workshop with a personal plan to address one thing that, if changed, would have the greatest impact. For example, one participant decided to respond to after-hours emails only one night a week and post an out-of-office message for the other six nights so she could schedule more activities with her family. Another pledged to persist in securing an uninterruptable summer vacation with her family. A third will reintegrate her love for cycling and get needed exercise into her schedule by biking to and from work one or two days a week.

Abbuhl emphasized that taking clearly-defined steps towards one specific achievable goal is at the heart of any meaningful attempt to achieve positive change. “Commit to trying out things for three months, knowing they won’t all work out, but that even a small change can make a big difference,” she said. “If you’re successful in one of those ways, it can be very empowering.”

Related link on UMassMedNow:
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Part-time careers in medicine on the rise