How Can Nurse Practitioners Can Achieve Work-Life Balance?

According to Archives of Internal Medicine, 46% of physicians currently experience at least one aspect of burnout including emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low personal accomplishment.  I suspect levels of burnout among nurse practitioners are alarmingly similar.  How can we as a nurse practitioners avoid the common problem of career burnout and achieve an agreeable work-life balance?

As I sit to write this post I am personally temporarily burnt out.  I worked until 2am last night, stayed late to train on the hospital’s new EMR system and while out on a neighborhood walk with friends this afternoon felt like a complete zombie.  Surveying the nursing community as a whole, I found no hard data addressing this problem among NP’s but based on the spattering of blog posts emphasizing burnout and the endless search for a work-life balance I suspect the number of nurse practitioners striving for a better career-personal life harmony is high.

Nursing sites frequently post lists such as “Top 10 Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance”, but today I am going to keep my advice much simpler.  Yes, making time to exercise or go on an annual vacation will offer you relief from workplace oppression but let’s take a step back.  The main thing you must do to avoid burnout and achieve work-life balance is to learn to say “No”.

We all want to be excellent co-workers, to join committees and impress our bosses or assist certain organizations.  When our colleagues have personal problems, we often say “Yes” to picking up a few of their hours even if it will cut into our personal time.  Sometimes, watching our bank accounts and 401K’s steadily increase in value is addicting and temps us to pick up more and more shifts.  Maybe you have increased your personal expenses as you feel you work hard and can afford some extravagance now that you are a nurse practitioner.  But, then these little luxuries begin to mount and your monthly budget forces you to work a little extra.  Eventually these obligations and expenses become back-breaking burdens forcing us to dread each workday and life in general.

If this describes you, as it often has me in the past, start saying “No”.  When you are tempted to pick up extra shifts in order to remodel your house, think hard about the decision.  What will this look like for you?  It might end up with you working your life away, never having time to cook on your new granite countertop.  Say “No” to yourself.  When your coworker begs you to work their Saturday shift…for the next three weekends…although you will make hundreds or even thousands of dollars is it ultimately worth sacrificing precious time spent with your children?  Say “No”.

Maybe the problem is not so glaring, you can’t identify exactly when you became overwhelmed but after a few years in your nurse practitioner career the long hours and providing personal interactions with hundreds of patients each month is beginning to ware on you.  Have an honest conversation with your employer.  Ask to cut back your hours a bit or make a case to work fewer weekends.  Your employer will likely want to make you happy.

I am not good at saying “No” and it landed me solidly into the burnout category last summer.  I volunteered to work extra for other nurse practitioners as they had babies or recovered from surgery. I strove to become an A+ employee.  Then, I became accustomed to the extra cash these additional hours delivered.  Enter home renovation.  And added stress.  I wasn’t sleeping and was working my life away at the expense of personal relationships .  Although my intentions were good, picking up extra shifts was ruining my life.  I was unhappy and overworked.  I had to say “No” to other NP’s at work, address the issue with my employer and say “No” to some personal expenditures if I was going to decrease my hours.

Ultimately, I made the transition to working a little less.  I am happier.  My family is happier.  Even my dogs are happier.  The other aspects of life that fall into your typical “How to Achieve a Work-Life Balance” post like grabbing lunch with girlfriends and taking on a new hobby (Hello Blog) have naturally fallen into place.  Learning to say “No” has me (almost) perfectly balanced.


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