Pursuing a medical career is a serious commitment. Aspiring physicians spend eight years in college and medical school, followed by three to seven years as a resident, often amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans. Yet despite the hard work that goes into launching a career as a physician, dissatisfaction within the profession is high. In fact, in a survey conducted by Medscape, only 54 percent of 24,000 doctors polled said they’d choose the profession again.
Many physicians report long hours, declining incomes, and general burnout as issues that could lead to their departure from the profession in the coming years. With the retiring baby boomer population already wiping out a sizable percentage of medical professionals, consumers have reason to be concerned.
The issue is exacerbated by the fact that the Baby Boomer generation is reaching Medicare eligibility age in larger-than-ever numbers. These patients need medical care in greater numbers than ever, creating a large demand for physicians. But for doctors, a growing elderly population means stacks of paperwork, especially if Medicare patients have supplemental insurance. As a result, physicians find themselves longing to spend more time practicing medicine and less time answering questions for insurance companies.
One reason for physician fatigue is a feeling that they aren’t making a difference. In a system that can easily bog professionals down in red tape, it’s important that doctors choose an environment that will help them grow. Recruiting firms have even stepped in to help physicians set long-term career goals and use those goals to locate the best possible environment for them.
As with any field, occasional time away is essential to prevent burnout. As demand for medical care grows, many medical practices are experiencing staffing challenges, leading doctors to put in more hours than ever. But taking time away from patients can help physicians recharge, allowing them to return ready to tackle the daily challenges of the job. It might be necessary to leave the state or even the country to avoid being paged to come into work.
Another way to prevent and treat burnout is through finding a way to reconnect with the most important elements of a physician’s job. Saving lives, healing those who are injured or sick, and giving families hope are at the very core of everything a physician does. Yet it’s too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day duties at a medical practice and forget the lives that are touched by the work a doctor does. Through putting in some time at a small clinic or working abroad for a few weeks, a physician could find a way to reconnect with the reasons he or she entered the field in the first place.
Last, the best antidote to burnout is simply learning to relax. While that likely sounds much easier than it is, there are many resources available to stressed workers today, including yoga, meditation, and therapy sessions with a licensed counselor. Sometimes even the act of speaking to someone else in the field, like a respected chief of surgery or senior member of your team, can help put things in perspective.