Perception does not have to be reality. Here are five myths about unhappiness among physicians.
We all know the impact of burnout, and the toll it takes. Loss of control is a significant factor, often reinforced by beliefs that get cemented early in our career. These beliefs have an overriding influence on how we think and feel as a doctor.
For example, didn't we all think that once we got past residency it would be smooth sailing? Or why we agonized over deciding on our first job out of residency, believing we would work there for the next 40 or 50 years? Or the prevailing belief that if you had the best scores in class, you would get the highest paid jobs? It sure burst my bubble when I learned one of the most successful, highest profile physicians I know, dropped out of residency in his first year because of poor performance.
Looking back, many of us could see how naÃ¯ve we were. Perhaps if we realized the true impact insurance companies or even our employer had on medical decisions, we could have anticipated the changes on how we practice, or even in the type of job we chose. Here are common physician myths that often obscure true fulfillment in our career.
Myth 1: Your Self-Worth and Income is Dependent on Work Ethic
You may be thinking, "What's wrong with being a hard worker? No one wants to be thought of as a 'slacker'." It reminds me of an old medical school joke, about the incoming surgery resident who was interviewing for different intern positions. The surgical attending would ask him, "Here at our hospital, we make it mandatory that new interns work call every other night…how do you feel about that?" A true hard-working intern would reply, "To be honest sir, I would be very disappointed because I will miss half the cases."
I have known residents who would live at the hospital in hopes of improving the respect of their attending's. Doctors often bring that same mentality in their career, while sacrificing their own time and dooming personal relationships. More important than working hard, is working smart.
As a business owner and practicing physician, I've been accused of being a workaholic. But over the years, I have learned when I feel I have too much on my plate, I ask myself, "Is this a task I have to do myself, or can it be done by others more effectively?" For instance, is it imperative that I need to be staying late at the clinic inputting this information in an EHR, or can I have a medical scribe do this instead? As doctors are more willing to delegate, the more they will be rewarded.
Myth 2: Choose Your Specialty Wisely, Because There's no Changing
It is certainly true that it's much more difficult to change specialties if you spend all this time to be a cardiothoracic surgeon and now want to move into psychiatry. But it is not impossible. And if you are an employed physician, you may have more flexibility than you think. You may have heard of the concept of job crafting, where the idea is you can pursue tasks and duties that can put more emphasis on your own strengths and values, in hopes of re-energizing your life and feeling more fulfilled. I was a people pleaser, and hated saying 'No' to my CEO. This resulted in me being stuck on administrative committees, unmotivated and not feeling anything got accomplished.
These days, you have more opportunities to practice in different environments. Tired of hospital life? Consider going outpatient only. A change of scenery may be needed if you prefer a rural or city environment. Perhaps you don't want to commit to a full-time job. There is nothing wrong with having two part-time jobs, or even doing locum tenens.
Myth 3: Physicians Should Only Focus on Practicing Medicine
This is one myth that I see commonly, especially with new practice owners and it often gets them into trouble. They worry that they only have to focus on what they were trained to do – see patients. But when it comes to running a business, they hand over the controls to someone else, and then are clueless as to the reasons why their practice is failing. You may be the best doctor, but if you are constantly late to appointments, it may be time to study time management.
The days of doctors only seeing patients are over. Doctors need to have a well-rounded education to understand anything that could influence their life and career.
Myth 4: Pick the Job with the Highest Wages
How many of us get that headhunter offering the "Perfect Job" with the best 401k packages, and the potential to make double what an average physician would earn? When you find a job offering twice what other doctors would make, it is usually because either no one else wants to do the job, or nobody wants to live in the location.
As for pension and 401ks, it's surprising that many doctors are not aware they can set up their own financial vehicles, or get premium health insurance that won't break the bank without being an employee. If you decide to take an independent contractor job or do locums tenens, there are many websites that can point you to different insurance and investment options.
Myth 5: Medicine is No Longer a Calling, It's a Job
Many of us still aspire to the noble aspirations that we were called on to become a doctor, performing a greater good. A recent study showed that once a physician feels that he or she is no longer serving a higher purpose, their performance suffers, as well as the quality of care they give to patients. The study concludes these doctors are at extremely high risk for burnout.
When you do decide on a physician job, realize that you have more options then you had in the past. Make an effort to pursue tasks and experiences in your job that line up with your own values and goals, keeping your energized and fulfilled. If you are surrounded by negativity, whether it be bosses, co-workers, or even patients, do your best to change that situation or if all else fails, get out. Remember, our time on this planet is finite. As the saying goes, we can always make more money but we can't make up more time.