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Seeking Balance: The Complexity of Choice-Making Among Academic Surgeons

Brown, Judith Belle PhD; Fluit, Meghan MSc; Lent, Barbara MA, MD, FCFP; Herbert, Carol MD, FCFP

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31822c124a
Work-Life Balance
Abstract

Purpose: This study describes the experiences of academic surgeons in seeking a balance between their personal and professional lives.

Method: This phenomenological study, conducted in 2009–2010 at the University of Western Ontario, used in-depth individual semistructured interviews to explore the ideas, perceptions, and experiences of 17 recently recruited academic surgeons (nine women/eight men) about seeking balance between their personal and professional lives. All the interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. The data analysis was both iterative and interpretative.

Results: All the participants expressed a passion and commitment to academic surgery, but their stories revealed the complexity of making choices in seeking a balance between their personal and professional lives. This process of making choices was filtered through influential values in their lives, which in turn determined how they set boundaries to protect their personal and family time from the demands of their professional obligations. Intertwined in this process were the trade-offs they had to make in order to seek balance. Some choices, boundary-setting strategies, and trade-offs were dictated by gender. Finally, the process of making choices was not static; instead, the data revealed how it was both dynamic and cyclical, requiring reexamination over the life cycle, as well as their career trajectory. Thus, seeking a balance was an ever-changing process.

Conclusions: Understanding how members of an academic department of surgery navigate the balance between their personal and professional worlds may provide new insights for other disciplines seeking to enhance the development of the next generation of academics.

Author Information

Dr. Brown is professor, Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, and King's University College, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.

Ms. Fluit is project coordinator, Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.

Dr. Lent is professor, Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.

Dr. Herbert is professor, Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Brown, Centre for Studies in Family Medicine, 100 Collip Circle, Suite 245, UWO Research Park, London, Ontario, Canada N6G 4X8; telephone: (519) 858-5028; fax: (519) 858-5029; e-mail: jbbrown@uwo.ca.

First published online August 24, 2011.

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges