Work Life Balance During the Holidays

The Dr. Bill Team
Dec. 18, 2020
9-minute read

While many medical professionals take time off around the holidays, sometimes the realities of the job mean that you need to be in the clinic. Whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, or even summer vacation, patients don’t stop needing care – and many doctors find themselves practicing while their friends and families take time off. So how can you still manage to find some balance over the holidays? Here are some tips for getting through without missing out.

1. Prioritize Your Schedule

Although working over the holidays might be necessary, many doctors have the option of choosing which holidays they want to work – for example, if you have young children, you may request Christmas off and volunteer to work Thanksgiving or New Years instead, which other physicians might prefer to spend with their family or friends. Prioritizing which days you work – if the option is available – can help you to make time for the holidays you enjoy the most, making the ones you do have to work a little bit more bearable. 

Even if you do have to work some undesirable hours around the holidays, some research shows that the more flexibility you have over your job and the hours you choose to work, the happier you will be overall – and working holidays is always better when you can choose which ones you would rather work. 

If you work shift work, it may seem like a good idea to maximize the days you have off (for example, doing 7 days on and 7 days off), but the reality of these schedules is that you’ll still miss out at home and could end up working a lot of weekends. If the option is available, some research suggests working shorter work days more frequently can help doctors who work shifts to find better levels of work-life balance. 

2. Quality Over Quantity

Even if you don’t have the option of a flexible holiday schedule, finding work life balance during the holidays could be as simple as making time for quality time with your loved ones. If you don’t have a whole week to spend relaxing in front of the fire, make sure to take advantage of the time you do have – planning enjoyable activities with friends and family members in between scheduling some rest for yourself will help you make the most of the time you’ve got. 

When you do have time off, try to make the most of it by being present and enjoying it. Industry wide studies on mindfulness based interventions in medical practice show positive results for both doctor burnout and well being; bringing mindfulness home for the holidays is a great way to make the most of the time you have versus the time you have to spend in the clinic. 

If you’re still yearning for a holiday experience, the Harvard Business Review suggests taking ‘micro vacations’ – planned time off that takes less than a day. They suggest going for weekend trips, extended lunches with friends, spouses, or family members, and taking remote days from the office as ways to recharge without clocking too much time away from the office. 

3. Focus on Serving Others

Being in the hospital over the holidays is tough for your patients as well – so even if you’re feeling down about working the holidays, remember that the work you are doing means a lot to your patients and their families. Even if you have to come in on your days off or handle labs/paperwork on days you don’t have to go into the office, remember that what you are doing has an impact. Like many professions, doctors often don’t get a chance to truly leave the office – urgent lab results or patient emergencies can happen at all hours – but unlike many (most!) other professions, the results of you doing your job could literally be life or death, and the patients or medical emergencies you see over the course of the day could be the same ones your own family members will face. 

Remember that for many doctors, medicine is a calling, rather than a career. Working on your days off might not be ideal, but simply by being ‘on duty’ you’re playing an important role in the health of people all over the country – and that’s work celebrating! Focusing on quality care is another aspect of using mindfulness to find more satisfaction and pleasure in the work that you do. By being present with your patients and focusing on the impact of the work you do, you can make the time you spend in the office count – even if you’d rather be spending it at home.

4. Spend Time with your Medical Family

One of the perks of being a doctor is the teamwork and camaraderie between physicians, nurses, and medical office staff in the clinic, hospital, or emergency room where you work! Although many of you might rather be spending the holidays at home, spending it with your ‘hospital family’ can be a great opportunity to form bonds with the people you work with, and depending on the holiday, bringing food to share in the break room, baking or bringing holiday treats, or participating in gift exchanges can be a great way to liven up the mood. 

No matter what stage you are in your career, working the holidays can also be a great opportunity to network or just to chat with other doctors who may be older and wiser, or who you might enjoy imparting your wisdom to. Working holidays offers you the chance to get to know people in the clinic you might not otherwise talk to – so enjoy the opportunity to connect!

5. Set Daily Hours for Follow Up 

Even if you don’t have to work over the holidays, patient care doesn’t stop – and chances are, you’re still going to receive labs or other follow up tasks that can’t wait, which means you’ll need to be following up with patients or making referrals. Although spending time on your computer or cellphone when you’re not in the office isn’t ideal, the nice part about this work is that you can choose your own time to do it – and although the research suggests doctors typically don’t respond to external rewards, planning extra treats for yourself while you get holiday work done is a nice way to stay motivated. For example, if you decide to spend some time on work as soon as you wake up, you could treat yourself to a fancy coffee, plan a fun leisure activity for right afterwards, or make a special breakfast with your family. 

Whatever you choose to do, remember that even if you do have to work on your days off, it shouldn’t take up your whole day. Setting aside time every day to handle your duties in the office will help your ‘day off’ work become routine – and less of a burden. 

Whether you’re working over Christmas, skipping Thanksgiving dinner, or missing out on the Easter egg hunt, missing holidays can be disappointing. However, since patient care doesn’t stop while the rest of the world is taking time off, your duty as a doctor doesn’t stop either. While work life balance as a doctor can be a little more difficult around the holidays, it’s certainly not impossible – and for many doctors, working over the holidays can be a rewarding and special time to practice medicine.


This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by RBC Ventures Inc. or its affiliates.


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