When rheumatologist Suleman Bhana embarked upon his career as a doctor in 2001, he believed he was entering a "noble" profession, one that would help others while providing him a good, stable salary.
Fast forward 12 years, and the 35-year-old physician is still excited about his choice of career, which he says provides an emotionally and intellectually rewarding experience. However, as a young doctor he finds himself encumbered with challenges that get in the way of providing great patient care, such as "navigating the murky waters of a convoluted billing and coding system" and an exhaustive work schedule — all while carrying medical school debt and trying to raise a toddler.
"There is an idealistic naïveté that many of us going into medicine have when starting our path from undergraduate college onward," says Bhana, who practices with a medical group in Summit, N.J. "We have notions of what a physician is perhaps from television, movies, personal encounters as a patient, or family and friends who are physicians. …For those of us practicing in the U.S., once we get into residency training, the curtain of the powerful Oz is pulled back and we see the deep inner workings of [a] highly dysfunctional system that does not reward health nor does it reward care."
Many physicians sympathize and identify with Bhana's sentiments, according to our 2013 Great American Physician Survey, Sponsored by Kareo, taken by 1,172 doctors earlier this year.
The majority of doctors say they're happy with their choice of profession and specialty, and many feel hopeful about the future of medicine. However, a growing number are fed up and feel weighed down by multiple issues, such as too much third-party interference, not enough time to provide optimum patient care, and financial responsibilities.
*Find out what's happening in the personal and professional lives of your peers; check out our infographic here.
How docs are holding up
Most physicians are happy they became doctors: Sixty percent of respondents said given the chance to go back in time, they would do everything roughly the way they did it the first time, and 14
percent said they would still become a physician but select a different specialty. However, 22 percent said if they could go back in time they would choose a career in a profession other than healthcare. When you account for age, the differences in attitudes are more staggering.
While 72 percent of doctors ages 65 and older (and 61 percent of those ages 56 to 64) strongly agree with the statement "I like being a physician," just 44 percent of physicians between the ages of 36 and 45, as well as 47 percent of physicians age 35 and under, said the same thing.
Solo physician Richard Bensinger, who practices in Seattle, still works between 51 hours and 60 hours per week at age 69, because he loves it so much. But he feels badly for many of his younger physician peers, who often carry staggering debt that deflates their take-home pay.
"I've observed that many medical school graduates have accumulated $150,000 to $250,000 in debt," says Bensinger. "By the end of training at age 32 or so, you would like to reap the reward of all that effort by being able to afford perhaps a house and car, not to mention the cost of opening up a practice. With such a crushing debt it becomes impossible and the only option —which is increasingly taken — is to join a large group or become a hospital employee."