One doctor’s lesson in work-life balance

Photo by: Ashlee Glen

We all struggle with work-life balance and, with the COVID-19 pandemic three years behind us, most of us have gotten back into the habit of running 100 miles per hour juggling our careers, families, friends, hobbies, and basic responsibilities.

Local Central Virginia Family Physician (CVFP) doctor Elizabeth Goff knows all too well the difficulty of this balance and almost got to the point where she no longer wanted to work full time as a doctor.

Goff said there are a lot of duties for physicians outside of patient visits, including documentation for insurance companies, recording exactly what was spoken about between the patient and doctor, refilling medications, reviewing lab results, and calling specialists, as well as just simply answering patient questions through online portals.

“All of that happens between the time that we’re scheduled to see patients, so we’re not doing that while we’re in the room with you,” she said. “So, if you have a 10- to 15-minute appointment, and the next person is scheduled 10 to 15 minutes later, that time between becomes shorter and shorter.”

As a result, the work gets done before patients come into the office, during lunch breaks or, ultimately, when physicians get home.

Goff works four and a half days a week and designates one half day where she’s solely focused on administrative work, but she still ends up doing documentation work at home.

When all this work started piling up, Goff had an 18-month-old at home and tried to create timeframes for her work at home versus her family time at home.

“But what that left was, after I put her down for bed at 7:30 p.m., I would still have to wash the dishes and do the clothes and I’d need to spend time with my husband, which is important for us, and I’d need sleep,” she said. “And I tell people to exercise all the time and I wasn’t exercising, because I would put her to bed, and I would spend hours and hours and hours documenting and then I wasn’t sleeping well because I was up so late documenting.”

Looking back, she remembers there being days where she would just hope to get through the day.

“My family wasn’t getting the best of me either because I was tired and exhausted when I got home,” she said.

When she got pregnant with her second child, Goff and her husband looked at each other knowing her lifestyle wasn’t working and even thought about scaling back her work schedule.

“This is not good for us. It’s not good for the family,” she remembers saying. “And we had talked about me dropping down to part time, which would be great but there’s such a need in our community for physicians right now that we didn’t feel like that was the right move and I also have student loans I have to pay off so we have to keep that in mind, especially with a growing family.”

When a colleague suggested Suki AI, a voice assistant for healthcare, designed to save doctors time and energy, she decided to pilot the technology at CVFP beginning in January 2021.

Goff said Suki helps with the documentation of her patient notes and now, instead of typing everything out manually, the technology transcribes it for her.
Typing a patient’s notes down would take between 20 to 40 minutes. Now, she can complete a note in three to five minutes.

For example, after a patient visit, Goff can quickly speak into the device and say the patient came in for diabetes and it’s well-controlled and they’re taking their medications. She can go on and talk about their physical exam and her plan for the patient.

“Suki just kind of picks it all up and it works the way doctors think,” she said. “I’ve saved somewhere between three and four hours a day. And I’m even more efficient with it now than I was then.”

Most days she doesn’t take work home at all and has changed her schedule so that she has 30 minutes at the end of the day to just wrap things up.

“Now I’ve got time with my kids from the time I get home until we put them to bed. Then I’ve got time with my husband, and I’ve got time to exercise,” she said. “I’m just getting back to doing hobbies and things I enjoy versus just constantly trying to figure out how I was going to keep up with everything.”

She says that she views being a physician as a calling but that doesn’t mean that it must be the only calling that she has. She also recognizes her patients struggling with the same thing.

She has noticed more of her patients are still working on their phones when they come into her office.

Her first piece of advice is to set boundaries.

“When I am working, I am working and that means my family is not going to interrupt me. And when I’m not working, I’m not working and the only time I have my phone on me is if I’m on call,” she said.

The second piece of advice Goff has is to take time to develop hobbies, exercise, and spend time in the sun.

Lastly, she advises employees to talk to their employers about solutions to lessen their workload like she did with Suki.