How to get work-life balance right -- and not just for women

2015 03 09 12 15 09 209 Ertl Wagner Birgit 200

Are you young and ambitious? Do you want to get a great job without abandoning thoughts of enjoyable hobbies and a family? Are you wondering how to get there while staying sane? Then please read below some great tips from Dr. Birgit Ertl-Wagner who is undoubtedly on top of her game as a neuroradiology professor and section chief of MRI at the University of Munich, Germany, but who also manages to stay admirably grounded, having fun with her family!

ECR Today: Employers expect ever-increasing levels of efficiency and productivity. Gone are the days (in many hospitals and practices) where you can just have a "quiet day." How do you cope? How do you avoid getting stressed and burnt out? Dr. Birgit Ertl-Wagner is a professor of radiology and neuroradiology, as well as section chief of MRI at the University of Munich's Institute of Clinical Radiology. She chairs the European Society's Education Committee.Dr. Birgit Ertl-Wagner is a professor of radiology and neuroradiology, as well as section chief of MRI at the University of Munich's Institute of Clinical Radiology. She chairs the European Society's Education Committee.

Ertl-Wagner: Yes, this is quite true. There are no quiet days any longer, and even the evenings and weekends are not really all that quiet. But you can always find quiet moments. And even if it is literally just a couple of minutes, catching a few deep breaths mindfully can go a long way toward recharging your batteries. I think it is really important not to just run and run and run, but rather to stop once in a while (even just for an instant), catch your breath and get oriented again.

How do you make time for your family and hobbies while keeping on top of your career?

It is really not easy to find time for family and hobbies and at the same time keep on top of your career -- and the time is of course always too short. How I wish for 48-hour days! There are a few tricks, however, to avoid completely losing out on the time front. I think it is very important to set time apart specifically for family and hobbies, instead of expecting time to just present itself. It is also easier for the children, when they know ahead of time when you will be there for them -- and also when you will be gone and will not have time. This saves a lot of disappointment. And when you have set a time, try everything to keep it and avoid being overrun by other obligations. Maybe most important, make it quality time. Do something you and your family really enjoy. Don't fall into the ubiquitous trap that you, for example, start sweeping the floor when you could finally have fun with your children.

Do you think there are any career options that make it easier to cope? Are there particular subspecialties that are less demanding or work place factors that could help?

I actually do not think that there are any specific subspecialties or career options that automatically make your work-life balance easier than others. My one piece of advice is that you should always choose what you really want to do. You will only be good at what you are doing, when you are truly interested in it. And maintaining a healthy work-life balance gets a lot easier when you are good at what you are doing and when you are enjoying yourself. So ask yourself what you really want to do (and not what somebody else thinks you ought to be doing or what looks easier).

According to your CV, you have trained in many different centers in Europe as well as the U.S. How did this influence your career? What is your advice to radiology trainees and young radiologists?

I think it is important to gather experience in different training centers, both nationally and internationally. It broadens your scope and lets you experience not only different clinical regimens and routines, but also different management styles. My advice to young trainees and radiologists is to look for such experiences rather early in your career. It gets much more difficult to organize when you are more settled and when you have children.

You have published numerous articles and book chapters. How do you manage to fit this in between your work and private life, especially with young children at home? Do you sleep?

Well, I certainly sleep too little and tend to work quite late into the night, when the children are already asleep. My typical "get-things-done" time is between 8 p.m. and midnight. I just hope that the few remaining hours of sleep suffice. When the alarm clock rings at 6 a.m., my answer would be "no way, that wasn't enough sleep," but luckily an hour and a cup of coffee later the world looks different!

Any other hints or tips for staying sane and maintaining a successful career while enjoying a healthy private life?

Well, to summarize it, stay true to yourself, enjoy what you are doing both professionally and privately, set quality time aside, and recharge your batteries often enough.

Dr. Christiane Nyhsen is a consultant radiologist at Sunderland Royal Hospital in the U.K., former chairperson of the ESR Radiology Trainees Forum, and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board.

Originally published in ECR Today on 5 March 2015.

Copyright © 2015 European Society of Radiology

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