Brandt's Rants: Work-Life Balance in New Zealand? Sheep and Surfing : Emergency Medicine News

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Brandt's Rants

Brandt's Rants

Work-Life Balance in New Zealand? Sheep and Surfing

Brandt, Robert MD

doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000898200.98109.46
    New Zealand, work-life balance:
    Dr. Brandt with one of his sheep.

    One year has passed since my family and I moved to New Zealand. I have learned much in this land of striking beauty, kind people, and dragons.

    By dragons, of course, I mean sheep. So many sheep. Seriously, sheep are everywhere. I literally went into the grocery store yesterday and then BOOM, right in front of me: sheep.

    I mean, it was mutton, but that's still sheep. I have also learned that it is sometimes difficult to give up some habits that have been ingrained in me since the very beginning of my medical training.

    I recently had my yearly review. I remember as a resident in the United States, the yearly interview was a stressful experience where a resident's work was nitpicked by administration while they informed you that you should be doing more and working harder.

    The following is the summary of my review this year:

    1. Keep writing; you seem to like that.
    2. Do your CME.
    3. Take time off. No, seriously, take more time off. It's good for you.

    That was pretty much it.

    It Came with the House

    Doctors have been leaving medicine in droves over the past two years. Stress and burnout are the primary contributors to these vacancies.

    I used to work in the United States in a fantastic, small, physician-run group. I absolutely loved my partners and the people I worked with. The ED was supportive and supported. I cannot think of a nicer group to work for, and I enjoyed it. But, like all EDs, it was a stressful job.

    After working in New Zealand for a year, I know my anxiety level has improved. Maybe it is because I now own a sheep. This is actually true; it came with the house.

    But now, it's rant time.

    Physicians must delay gratification to practice medicine. The vast majority of us spent countless hours trading our free time and activities for studying to become excellent physicians. Once we finished medical school, we moved to the low-stress, ludicrously high-paying area of residency. Ha! Just kidding! All we got were increased responsibilities while continuing to work crazy hours with copious busywork while studying for more tests.

    Finally, we became attending physicians. Life improved. The work hours usually decreased and the amount of mundane busywork also lessened, and the income level jumped a great deal. The responsibilities and stress, however, continued rising. And we all embraced that tension, hassle, and worry with open arms. We seem to cling to our stress like some sort of twisted security blanket.

    Relearn Balance

    I think that we need to relearn how to equalize life and work once we become attendings in the United States. Perhaps this ongoing adventure in New Zealand has allowed me to relearn how to relax, take some time off, and recharge. Granted, I literally just had a review telling me to take more time off, so perhaps I am not yet there.

    But we still do not know how to relax, and this truth remains hidden deep within many of us. We do not know how to balance the insanity of what we do. I still feel that having two or three days off might not be enough to unshoulder the burden of stress.

    So, what do we do in New Zealand to fight this? We eat sheep and surf.

    OK, that is just a small part. The big picture is a better work-life balance.

    Of course, no system is perfect, and, of course, the ED remains a stressful environment.

    Working in a medical system funded by the government has a variety of advantages and disadvantages. On the downside, getting reimbursement for CME, scrubs, and gear takes more time and paperwork. On the other hand, everyone here has health care, and no one is in crippling debt due to unforeseen illness. Pretty much every prescription here also costs five bucks. I find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Also, more time off.

    Seriously, six weeks paid vacation with an additional two weeks paid CME just caught me off guard. I have a very typical contract, working full-time, and averaging 28 clinical hours per week.

    I do not know the perfect answer, and it varies from person to person.

    Possibly take some time off.

    Decrease your hours.

    Make a long list of what is truly important and reprioritize.

    And, if you are still feeling stressed and overwhelmed, maybe get a sheep.

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    Dr. Brandtis an emergency physician currently working in New Zealand (after 12 years in Michigan). Read his blog and other articles at, follow him on Twitter@brandtwriting, and listen to his humorous ED podcast, “EpineFriends,” which can be found at Read his past EMN columns at

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