Work-life balance in academic medicine: narratives of physician-researchers and their mentors

J Gen Intern Med. 2013 Dec;28(12):1596-603. doi: 10.1007/s11606-013-2521-2. Epub 2013 Jun 14.


Background: Leaders in academic medicine are often selected from the ranks of physician-researchers, whose demanding careers involve multiple professional commitments that must also be balanced with demands at home.

Objective: To gain a more nuanced understanding of work-life balance issues from the perspective of a large and diverse group of faculty clinician-researchers and their mentors.

Design: A qualitative study with semi-structured, in-depth interviews conducted from 2010 to 2011, using inductive analysis and purposive sampling.

Participants: One hundred former recipients of U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) K08 or K23 career development awards and 28 of their mentors.

Approach: Three researchers with graduate training in qualitative methods conducted the interviews and thematically coded verbatim transcripts.

Key results: Five themes emerged related to work-life balance: (1) the challenge and importance of work-life balance for contemporary physician-researchers, (2) how gender roles and spousal dynamics make these issues more challenging for women, (3) the role of mentoring in this area, (4) the impact of institutional policies and practices intended to improve work-life balance, and (5) perceptions of stereotype and stigma associated with utilization of these programs.

Conclusions: In academic medicine, in contrast to other fields in which a lack of affordable childcare may be the principal challenge, barriers to work-life balance appear to be deeply rooted within professional culture. A combination of mentorship, interventions that target institutional and professional culture, and efforts to destigmatize reliance on flexibility (with regard to timing and location of work) are most likely to promote the satisfaction and success of the new generation of clinician-researchers who desire work-life balance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers* / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mentors / psychology*
  • Narration*
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Research Personnel / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workload / psychology*