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What physicians should do when they are unhappy with their job

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Article

A career as a physician comes with many challenges and hardships, so it's important to know who to turn to when you feel less than satisfied with your work.

Suneel Dhand, MD

Suneel Dhand, MD

The headlines on physician burnout and job dissatisfaction are truly alarming. A large physician organization in Massachusetts recently declared it a “major public health crisis." The rush towards big corporate medicine in an environment of massively bloated bureaucracy and administrative requirements has really taken its toll on doctors of all specialties. Well over 50 percent are burned out, and this has huge consequences for our nation’s healthcare. We desperately need good doctors, and those doctors need to be happy in their careers.

So, with many physicians dissatisfied with their jobs, the next question is: who, if anyone, should they talk to when this first happens?

Other immediate colleagues

You likely work in a group of physicians, some of whom are much more experienced than you. There’s nothing like talking to your own colleagues (hopefully trusted friends too) and going over your frustrations. Seek three things in particular: (i) perspective, (ii) solutions, and (iii) immediate advice on what to do.

Your supervisor

This is likely to be the physician chief of your group (they may have even hired you!). If you are lucky, this is someone who is supportive and has always had your back. Sit down with them and discuss your feelings towards your job.

Administrators

This may sound rather fanciful in today’s environment, but there are some institutions out there, albeit a minority, with supportive administrators who like to stay in touch with their frontlines. Do you have a chief medical officer (CMO) or chief executive officer (CEO) who is like this?

Colleagues in other places

You likely know physicians in other places and parts of the country. Perhaps you also network at a lot of conferences (you should!). What’s their take on the unique issues you face, and do they give the impression that their facilities are any better?

Family

This should go without saying. The unfortunate reality of life is that anybody who is unhappy at work, is rarely truly happy at home either (carry-over effect). Do your loved ones notice that you come home exhausted and unhappy? If so, it really is a warning signal that a change needs to be made.

Assuming you are a good, competent physician, and working in a half decent place, the healthcare organization won’t want to lose you. It’s also very costly for them to hire another doctor. They should offer whatever help is possible to address your concerns, and probably another carrot or two. Realistically, many things may be out of their hands, however (such as federal administrative requirements).

But even though you probably have a lot of other options with the supply-demand mismatch in healthcare-never be hasty about handing in your resignation. It doesn’t completely have to be black or white either. Working in a different capacity at your current institution, or even going part-time, may be two other viable options. And even if you ultimately do leave for understandable reasons, don’t make the age-old mistake of burning your bridges. Be amicable and always leave on good terms. The healthcare world is small.

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

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