Last Word

June 17, 2005

We don't have it so bad

Have you noticed that whenever two or more doctors converse, we usually complain? We grouse about insurance companies, hospital administration (unless we're part of it!), exorbitant malpractice insurance fees, outrageous court judgments, ungrateful patients, not to mention long workdays and declining income. I know doctors who quit in their early 50s because they were fed up, and I've been told of doctors who discourage their children from pursuing medical careers.

Personally, I think we complain too much. All businesses have become more difficult in today's economy. My brother-in-law-in management for an automobile company-has had to work out-of-state 10 days out of 12 for the past six months. A computer company downsizes its workforce and everyone left picks up the slack. A well-respected editor is let go when the company that acquired his publication decides his position is expendable. This is the reality of our modern day world. Yet it seems we believe that because we're doctors, we should be immune.

Lest you think that I don't know how it used to be, let me assure you that I've been a physician for more than a quarter of a century, and I realize that practicing medicine has become more difficult over the years. I hate it that, increasingly, doctors and patients are put into adversarial positions. I agree that tort reform is a critical issue that must be addressed quickly and adequately.

I worry when doctors discourage the best and the brightest from joining our profession. The title "MD" still affords a certain level of status, and most doctors can anticipate an excellent income, albeit not necessarily as high as in the past.

Moreover, in medicine you can craft your own lifestyle, from choosing a specialty where call is almost nonexistent to setting up a part-time practice. I have a partner who works in the office 30 hours a week, takes call just like the rest of us, and is considered a full-fledged member of our practice-no "mommy track" or other such nonsense. When my daughter was young, I was able to arrange my schedule so that I could take her to school, pick her up, and attend all the field trips. Few in the corporate world have such luxury.

Yes, medicine has its downside, but give some thought to the advantages. If you can't find any, then work on changing your circumstances.

I'm not advocating rose-colored glasses. We need to work hard to correct some of the problems we face. I'm just suggesting that you be evenhanded in your assessment, especially when you speak to young people who may be inclined to join our still noble profession.

Half full or half empty; it really is your choice.