How can physicians regain their passion for medicine?

July 17, 2018

Three strategies to overcome burnout and bureaucracy and remain committed to medicine.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The opinions expressed here are that of the authors and not UBM / Medical Economics.

These are tough times to be a physician. Medical practice is unrecognizable from what it was only 20 years ago, as doctors have moved en masse from being small business owners to employees in a corporate environment. There are a number of reasons why this has happened, but chief among them are a regulatory environment that makes it very difficult to be in solo or small group practice.

Being an employee may have perceived benefits for “security,” but comes at an enormous cost in terms of autonomy and independence. On that note, it is no secret there’s currently an epidemic of job dissatisfaction and burnout in medicine. It’s such a shame for a profession which everyone initially went into with very noble and altruistic intentions (over three-quarters of medical students, when surveyed by the American Medical Association, say they chose medicine for the simple reason of wanting to help people). Most doctors still graduate with very high ideals and aspirations, but after a few years in practice that enthusiasm seems to fall by the wayside.

So what happens? In a nutshell, the reality of overwhelming bureaucracy in today’s corporate environment happens. Are there ways out of this valley, to regain that passion for medicine again? Possibly. Here are three:

• Choose your job very carefully

Different jobs can vary enormously in terms of work environment and administrative support. Pick wisely and consider any possible red flags before signing on the dotted line. Carefully spend as much time as you can at the institution (come back for a second day if needed) and observe in detail your future workplace. Talk to as many people as possible about their experiences. Also, be sure to only work with a great bunch of colleagues, who can make or break your job.

• Keep reminding yourself why you went into medicine

It’s highly likely that every extra minute you spend with patients and are in that “zone” of patient care will dramatically increase your chances of job satisfaction. Conversely, every minute with computers and tick-boxes will dramatically decrease it. Have a constant awareness of the parts of your job that you enjoy, and do your best to foster them. Engage amicably with other practice staff and hospital administrators to push for as much administrative support as possible.

• Work to regain regain autonomy

Being able to exert more control over your own schedule and income, and not having that feeling of being controlled, is something that would be important to any highly trained professional. There is estimated, by the Association of American Medical Colleges, to be a shortage of over 100,000 physicians by the end of the next decade, and most specialties are in high demand with the aging population. How can you leverage the supply-demand mismatch to your advantage? There are a myriad of potential ways to do so, including avoiding working full-time at only one institution and also doing a mixture of different types of work (inpatient, outpatient, procedures, etc.).

These are just three ways in today’s environment for any doctor to hopefully regain their love of medicine. Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet. But there are physicians out there who are happier than others, and it’s worth considering why. Doctors have worked way too hard to be discontent in their work, and if they find themselves in a tough spot professionally, they owe it not only to themselves to seek alternative options-but to patients as well, who need happy doctors.

Ben Levin, MD, is a board certified internal medicine physician practicing on Cape Cod, Mass. He is the co-founder of DocsDox, an online service that connects physicians with great moonlighting and per diem opportunities, without the middleman. Levin enjoys helping physicians regain their independence, autonomy, and practice on their own terms by exploring moonlighting work.