The pursuit of happiness and success in OB/GYN


Contemporary OB/GYN's blogger on residency discusses the annual survey and the need to have balance in life.

“What makes you happy?” asked Dr. Michael Foley, Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Banner-University Medical Center and a national expert on critical care in obstetrics. I stopped to consider as Dr. Foley continued on, “Find happiness and you’ll be successful. Don’t look for success to be happy.” He smiled and made his point somewhere in between a mentoring and research conversation that started at critical care, sauntered over birth plans, and ended in martial arts. I tucked away his words as I thought about wrapping up residency, starting fellowship, a family, and getting research in full swing-happiness; I got it.

Contemporary OB/GYN’s January cover article, “Your Life, Your Work,” profiled responses from readers to ts first annual Labor Force survey. Of the 943 ob/gyns who wrote in, 80% were generalists and 57% were male and they well represented the United States, with one-third in practice between 21 to 30 years. The results were grim. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they were less optimistic about their ability to adequately provide care for their patients, while 9% were more optimistic. Meanwhile, 54% claimed their workload had increased and 68% saw an increase in their stress level at work. The survey also revealed the top three challenges to an effective practice: (1) maintaining work-life balance (39%); (2) dealing with insurance companies (38%); and (3) compensation (33%).

The editors summarized the findings: “balance is key – in life and in specialty.”

I could almost hear Dr. Foley defining balance while I read the piece: “marked variation across a fulcrum.” He cogently described why one never really gets to balance and persuaded me, as he does many of his trainees, to find harmony in place of pursuing balance. He paints an image of multiple strings creating a cord as harmony and defines a pentad of his harmonious cords: (1) career/professional development, (2) family, (3) personal, (4) community, and (5) spirituality/meditation. Lucky for me, I had heard Dr. Foley’s philosophical outlook before I read the results of the report. My cynicism and negativity vanished. My career is a huge part of my life, but my life is not my career. They are parts of a connected web in which I live, and the individual women who I have the honor to take care of hit almost every string of a harmonious life cord that I desire.



Next: The intangibles of medical training

One of the survey respondents wrote: “The young physicians will have extreme challenges down the road.” I’m looking forward to the challenge. Our specialty and training is different today than it was when many of the respondents practiced – interdisciplinary teams, insurer oversight, changes in trainee work hours and tracking in obstetrics and gynecology are different – but that empowers us to find dynamic solutions. We (trainees) have no choice but to approach patient care efficiently and through creative modalities, because that’s what we do – sometimes even in short 140-character tweets.

A resident survey from ob/gyn programs in Connecticut demonstrated that 13% of trainees polled met criteria for high burnout and over 50% demonstrated emotional exhaustion.1 However, a high level of personal accomplishment was strongly correlated with job satisfaction.

It seems counterintuitive, but somehow when I make time for things outside of my daily hospital routine, I thrive. When I hear the siren song of my bed luring me after work, I must push myself to get to a workout class, meet a friend for dinner, or catch a play. I’m not waiting. I read the Contemporary OB/GYN survey and told myself that being a trainee, being too young, too old, or too tired is not an excuse. I must focus on harmony. I don’t want to respond to this survey in a decade and think to myself: I should have, could have, or would have done something differently. I’ll focus on happiness and let success happen. Right, Dr. Foley?


1. Govardhan LM, Pinelli V, Schnatz PF. Burnout, depression and job satisfaction in obstetrics and gynecology residents. Conn Med. 2012;76(7):389-95.

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