Blogs: Focus on Current Thinking

The Importance of Work-Life Balance

Published Online: Tuesday, April 22, 2014
While conducting a recent leadership discussion with a group of pharmacy students, I asked them whether they thought the ideal of a healthy work-life balance was a myth. This question sprang from an article from the March 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review titled “Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life” that I had asked the students to read.
In working with pharmacy residents over the past 15 years, I have found that many find it difficult to master time management skills. Many residents struggle to find the balance between taking a perfectionist approach to their work and turning in something they clearly didn’t spend enough time on. I have also noticed that residents tend to put off starting long-term assignments until the deadline looms rather than working on them when they have free time as soon as they are assigned.
Of course, this phenomenon is hardly confined to pharmacy residents alone. Even those of us who are well-established in our careers can have trouble with time management. The question for all of us is how to advance professionally while setting aside enough time for our family, our friends, and ourselves.
When I asked the students whether the possibility of a healthy work-life balance was a myth, I was amazed at how many said it was not and that they felt they had been able to manage a good balance between work and life for themselves. I wondered if they were able to attain this balance because they were students, with more free time and less responsibility than those already embarked on a career. However, many of the pharmacy students in this group were married with families and are pursuing pharmacy as a second career. Perhaps their reaction was a sign of generational change, where they were more interested in enjoying the journey of their career than in reaching a particular destination. Whatever the reason, I was surprised at the confidence in their responses.
For those of us still struggling to find a healthy balance between work and life, the Harvard Business Review article provides some interesting insights gleaned through numerous interviews with successful individuals. Here are a few that are particularly pertinent for pharmacists:
  • Define success for yourself: I think this is a critical, yet overlooked step. A journey is completed one step at a time, and these steps need to be intentional. If you do not know what you want from your career, it is hard to know if you ever obtain it. In addition to professional goals, your personal definition of success should incorporate goals for yourself as a person and your family. It should take into account the amount of time you have each day and the level of energy and dedication you can maintain over the long term. Setting up a plan to reach ambitious yet reasonable goals will help you have a successful and enjoyable career.
  • Manage technology: As accessing information becomes ever more easy and convenient, it is important to set boundaries in order to maintain your own personal sanity and have some uninterrupted time with your family. This will allow you to “be in the moment” more of the time rather than trying to multi-task, which never leads to accomplishing as much as you had hoped.
  • Build support networks: For pharmacists, this means having a strong group of people to network with and numerous mentors to turn to for advice. Not only can these mentors advise you on how to best balance different priorities, they and your broader network can also assist in advancing your career.
  • Collaborate with your partner: Of all the advice in the article, I believe this to be the most important. If you and your spouse do not have a consistent vision of what your collective work-life balance should be and an agreed-upon definition of success, there will be inevitable tension in your relationship. I personally believe this relationship should be prioritized above all as you strive for work-life balance.
These are some of the strategies that I have employed in my life to gain balance. While I strive for professional success and to make an impact in my field, I recognize that my work toward these goals has to be balanced with taking care of my personal and family responsibilities. While I am not as quick as the students in the leadership discussion to declare that a healthy work-life balance is not a myth, I do feel that it can be attained with proper planning, communication, and execution.
Do you have any strategies that you have employed to attain a healthy work-life balance? You can let me know what you think by email at
Stephen F. Eckel, PharmD, MHA, Pharmacy Times Health-System Edition Editor
Blog Info
Stephen Eckel is an avid reader on issues impacting the practice of health-system pharmacy. His writings discuss recent articles or books he has read, with perspectives on how they relate to the current practice of health-system pharmacy. He enjoys hearing feedback from readers of his work, even if they do not agree with his opinions.
Author Bio
Stephen Eckel received his bachelor of science in pharmacy and doctor of pharmacy from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He completed a pharmacy practice residency at Duke University Medical Center and then joined UNC Hospitals as a clinical pharmacist. Eckel also holds a master's of health care administration from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.

Eckel is a clinical associate professor in the Division of Practice Advancement and Clinical Education and is the division's vice chair for graduate and postgraduate education. He is also director of graduate studies and is in charge of the 2-year master of science program in pharmaceutical sciences with a specialization in health-system pharmacy administration, which is hosted at multiple sites across North Carolina. He is associate director of pharmacy and director of pharmacy residency programs at UNC Hospitals, where he leads and develops a dynamic group of patient-care providers. He has worked with almost 200 residents in his career. Eckel is a board certified pharmacotherapy specialist.

As an innovator and entrepreneur, Eckel spearheaded the development of UNC Pharmacy Grand Rounds with ASHP and launched ChemoGLO LLC with Bill Zamboni, PharmD, PhD. He is the editor of the health-system edition of Pharmacy Times and a passionate supporter of the role of the pharmacist in patient care. He regularly publishes his research and is frequently asked to speak around the world on these issues.

Eckel has also been very active in the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists. He has been elected chair of the Acute Care Practice Forum and a board member. He has served many years in the ASHP House of Delegates. He was also the chair of the ASHP Council of Pharmacy Practice from 2009 to 2010. His is a Fellow of ASHP and APhA.
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