Pt. 2: Work-Life Balance for Emergency Departments by Steve Sherick, MD, CEO

Doctor at Home with Daughter | Innova Emergency Medical Associates

Balancing Work & Life in Emergency Medicine: Work Beyond the Job

by Steve Sherick, MD, CEO


Following up on my initial post about the overall lay of the land and culture of emergency medicine, let’s talk about the work. By the work, I mean not only the seeing of the patients that leads to improved quality of life for them but everything that goes into your ability to take care of those patients.

Some of this will seem rote and ridiculous, but it’s amazing how often each of us often doesn’t consciously take a moment to optimize our flow and attitude about our jobs rather than just charging ahead with the work. Here are some tips I’ve come up with to help you balance the work of being an emergency physician with the life that comes with treating patients.

Finding time for your priorities.

First, as you’re thinking of going on for your shift ask yourself whether you are happy to be going in. And if you’re not, why that is? Did you not hit the gym or that yoga class you promised yourself you’d do- and why is that? If it’s a childcare issue – did you take conscious stock of how you organize your life, shifts and free time around your kids’ schedule? 

As professionals, we tend to think that nobody can do our tasks (patient care, child care, house work, etc.) better than we can. Sometimes that may be true, but there’s only one of you and only so many hours in the day. Getting a cleaning service, personal assistant, lawn care or handyman to do the thing you don’t have time for or don’t want to do will give you more time to savor the times in your life that you value the most. Simple to say, harder to do, in my experience. Today is the day to start though.

Get in the right mindset

In terms of how you show up to a shift, do you rush in at the last moment, running around to do sign out, or are you peaceful, gathered and on your game? A little effort on the front end will make your life easier as you wind your shift down.

At Innova, we have a strict signout policy where you sign out your patients at the end of your shift and get the heck out of the department. This pays forward for the incoming team and makes the end of your shifts much smoother. I also recommend having a pre-shift ritual to get yourself in the headspace needed to be at your best.

For me, I bring Oreos (preferably mint) to treat the team and nurses, thus giving them one more reason to (hopefully) look forward to seeing me on the schedule. I also like to wipe down the work station with an antibacterial wipe, get signed in, and make sure I have my equipment all dialed. I’ve seen doctors check the larygyscope lights/blades and the ultrasound before their shift, but I have yet to reach that level of “O” in my OCD. I’ve also seen a doc put up pictures of his family and kids every shift at his station, a unique and admirable way of reminding him about the best parts of his life, and that the folks he’s caring for are somebody else’s family.

Appreciate your career in Emergency Medicine

Lastly, something I’ve seen the best docs do is have a “shark-like” approach to picking up new patients. They pick up everything that is in front of them, and then an additional patient is not a burden, rather an expected part of their day. Having that attitude makes your shift so much more enjoyable, rather than trying or hoping for fewer patients to care for.

Now, if you’re co-staffing an area with another provider that doesn’t mean that you should pick everybody up- just do all that you can to be a great member of the team. If you’re counting patients and making sure that you have exactly half of all the volume, your attitude and work ethic will show it.

Be a great team member, and folks will repay you in kind. Be glad for the tasks at hand. You could be going to work doing any number of immeasurable careers that are less rewarding and don’t put you in a place to help people in their greatest moment of need. That attitude makes the frequent flier,drug-seeking patient so much more manageable, and just part of your still-amazing job.


Use these tips to balance the work and attitude you carry towards your life and patients.  You deserve it, and so do they. Contact the team at Innova EM to learn more about finding the right fit for your Emergency Department.