Reasons why unhappy doctors stay in their jobs too long

The reality is that if you are miserable at work, it’s very difficult to be happy at home.

The COVID-19 pandemic has (temporarily) put a pause on the avalanche of concerns about physician burnout and job dissatisfaction. Before 2020, online medical sites were awash with articles about all the changes that have been inflicted upon doctors in this new age of being employed by large healthcare organizations and being overwhelmed by bureaucratic requirements. In fact, over half of all doctors were already reporting feeling burned out—including a staggering 80 percent of all primary care physicians.

Many medical professionals who have dutifully stepped up to their calling in dealing with the COVID-19 surges haven’t had a moment to catch their breath. But the truth of the matter is that this pandemic will be over one day (hopefully sooner than we think). What will happen afterwards when doctors realize that all of those issues that they were unhappy about, are still there?

The cold hard truth is that way too many physicians have been stuck in jobs that they dislike—for way too long. It’s a shame that after so many years of dedicated training to reach their dream of becoming a doctor, with such intelligence and talent, any physician would feel trapped in a job. Here are 3 of the biggest reasons why:

  1. Family commitments. Once you have a steady job and income stream, settled in an area, and have children in school, it seems almost impossible to uproot yourself. You are otherwise happy with your house and your kids seem to be doing well. It’s too much of a change to switch jobs!
  1. Debt. You have a ton of debt right now. Added to your astronomical medical school loans, are your hefty mortgage payments. You are keeping afloat with some room for luxuries. Now is not the time in life to take risk! Are you insane suggesting I can just up and leave my secure job?
  2. Better the devil you know. I know other physicians in my specialty, and most of them are miserable with certain aspects of their jobs too. I am used to this hospital and clinic, know how things work, and have formed relationships with all my colleagues. I’m in my comfort zone in this place.

If you are in any of the above 3 categories, please think long and hard about whether your logic is flawed. The supply-demand mismatch in most medical and surgical specialties is in your favor to always find a secure and equally high-paying job, and unless you are living in a very rural area—there is more than likely another opportunity within commuting distance from your house! You are also smart enough to adjust to any new work environment quickly. In addition, if you want to think outside the box and explore new areas like telemedicine, or even non-clinical work (including administrative, technology, pharmaceutical, or other medical startups), plenty of potential opportunities await anyone with an MD at the end of their name.

The reality is that if you are miserable at work, it’s very difficult to be happy at home—it quickly spills over into your personal and family realm. Your working career, like a lot of life, will go by in the blink of an eye. Better be happy while you are practicing your noble skills and helping your patients get better.

Suneel Dhand MD is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the cofounder of DocsDox (www.DocsDox.com), a service that helps physicians find local moonlighting and per diem opportunities, bypassing the expensive middleman.