Dr. Brian Bethea has to stay up all night again.
But after attending to patients in their hospital beds, his thoughts turn to tucking in his little girl at home. "Got a big game tomorrow right? I'll be there," Bethea says on the phone to his daughter while sitting in his empty office. "You've got to keep your emotions in control. I love you too. Get in bed!"
The scene of fathers parenting over the phone in between meetings and making promises to be home even when they're not sure they can be kept takes place across America every day.
Bethea knows it all too well and had a particularly hard time striking the work-life balance while he was training to be a heart and lung surgeon at Johns Hopkins. Bethea — who finished his residency in June and has since found a way to make more time for his family — was stretched thin back then.
During that period, Bethea tried to share house duties with his wife, a physician assistant, such as taking their daughters, ages 11, 10 and 7, to sports practices all while working a 100-hour week. But he just wasn't able to do it all.
"You've got to put the patients first, so it makes everything else — your family, yourself, everything — by definition, second. It's unpredictable; we don't have a start and stop point to every day," Bethea said.
"What is happening is almost a perfect storm of factors — we're seeing so many more dads taking a more active parenting role because wives are also in the workplace," said Susan Seitel, president of WFC Resources, an organization that helps train companies on work-life balance issues. "June Cleaver is dead."
Another factor in that perfect storm, Seitel noted, is the current recessionary economy combined with a skilled-employee shortage, particularly in health care.
The result is even a profession like medicine, which is traditionally defined by long hours, is waking up to the fact that the profession must adapt to both women and men demanding more of a work-life balance.
Emotional strain, depression and burnout are the fears of many people like Bethea, who are in high-powered careers. They also may discover work can be hazardous to their relationships.
Things reached its roughest point for Bethea when the lack of consistent time with his family started taking a toll on his home life.
"On top of working [you're] trying to maintain a little bit of self-preservation," he said. "The initial downfall is the relationship between the husband and the wife — it gets neglected. And once you start neglecting it, it becomes very easy to value it less."
Partly as a result of this lack of time, Bethea's wife contacted her lawyer. Bethea then moved into a separate apartment, and it seemed like their 12-year marriage was on its way to being over.
Traditional roles in more traditional times aren't cutting it anymore — if employers want to be competitive and attract employees, said Phil Miller, vice president of Merritt Hawkins & Associates, a national physician recruiting firm.
In the firm's 2006 survey of final-year medical residents and what they look for in a job, lifestyle ranked the highest. It also found that 63 percent ranked the "availability of free time" as a significant concern in their first job, up from 13 percent several years earlier.