As a volunteer in the General Surgical Ward at North Phoenix Baptist Hospital in the early 90s I received an abundance of advice. I was a high school junior with aspirations of becoming a physician, yet the preponderance of physicians I encountered unabashedly and emphatically advised me against it. The consensus was that physicians were becoming marginalized as labor in healthcare and no longer had control of their career. Not wanting to believe their advice I marched forward with my journey to become a physician. Now here I am, no longer practicing medicine sharing my thoughts on why I think physicians and medical careers may become the next endangered species.
Why are physicians burning out faster than ever?
As a freshly minted, board certified Emergency Medicine physician in 2009, I was dismayed to see how physicians essentially abdicated their place in healthcare to administrators and regulators. Let’s be clear: this shift didn’t happen overnight and physicians cannot claim the role of victim. At some point we allowed everyone else in healthcare to treat us like labor because we were unwilling or too arrogant, or both, to mobilize and confront administrators, policies and regulations with solidarity. Let’s face it, if physicians mobilize and speak with one voice the possibilities are endless. But, like my high school basketball coach told me, ‘potential never accomplished anything.’ If physicians cannot find a way to band together, then all the talk is just empty complaining. Alas they push on seeing more patients in less time and retiring earlier and earlier.
The first to see pay cuts
If you take the physician out of the hospital, you simply have a building. It’s not hubris to say that without physicians, no one makes a single dollar in healthcare. So, when cuts have to be made in healthcare, why is the physician reimbursement the first to get cut? As my 9 year old is apt to reply to my ridiculousness, ‘seriously?’ When will physicians simply start getting paid, instead of reimbursed? (Don’t even get me started on the preposterous system of reimbursement…) We’re all aware without them at bedside no one else can take their place. Unfortunately, most C-suites with all the MBAs, MHAs and MPHs can’t treat, or diagnose patients.
Instead of looking at the exorbitant costs of medications or medical devices, physician pay is cited as the reason healthcare costs are spiraling out of control. The scavengers are constantly searching for ways to extract money off the backs of the physician who spent the better part of their adult lives training – just to get to the point where they can help people. Many physicians just want to treat patients, but they lack the business savvy and avarice of the health care scavenger. At the end of the day, more and more physicians simply throw up their hands and find a career outside of clinical medicine.
Money doesn’t buy happiness or millennials
It took me years to discover the truth behind the trite expression, ‘money can’t buy happiness.’ Physicians are no exception. While a career in medicine can be lucrative (even after pay cuts), at some point the lack of autonomy, over regulation, inefficiencies and corporatization of medicine leaves even the best-intentioned physician burned out. Every physician remembers their medical school interviews where they sincerely responded to the question, ‘why do you want to become a doctor’ with ‘I want to help people.’ It doesn’t take long before that well-intentioned medical student is a bright-eyed, bushy tail physician just trying to make an impact. Then that physician quickly falls prey to the health care complex interested only in scoring a profit.
Millennials are set to encompass the majority of the physician population by 2025. What worked for my generation won’t work for this new workforce. Millennials get sick of being powerless in their careers so they instead look for alternative ways to use their education and training. They’re quick to open their eyes and seek a new career. With physicians burning out faster than ever and the already pressing physician shortage, what will the industry do, if anything, to prevent this endangerment?
I never thought I would be part of the drop out club. I thought I would practice medicine my entire career. But I felt like a cog in a big system, so I chose to hang up my stethoscope and white coat to build a product and company that celebrates the medical professional. As a physician you make a difference when you’re one-on-one with a patient. Now I want to make an impact on a larger scales for physicians so they can better serve patients and make impacts themselves. As another physician entrepreneur eloquently put it, ‘trade in the exam room for the board room.’
It’s time to provide physicians with tools that allows them the flexibility, leverage and mobility to take control of their career and not be beholden to the scavengers in health care. Improving the quality of life and work conditions, as well as lightening the heavy administrative burden for physicians is one step toward removing medical careers from the endangered species list.