8 Reasons to Be Happy You're in Primary Care

February 25, 2011

A recent study found that, despite lower pay, physicians in pediatrics, geriatrics, and family medicine rank the highest in happiness and job satisfaction compared with other specialties.

With so much talk about the financial struggles and day-to-day hassles of practicing in the primary-care sector, it's easy to lose sight of the positive side of being a primary-care physician. And yes, there is one. Actually, a recent study found that, despite lower pay, physicians in pediatrics, geriatrics, and family medicine rank the highest in happiness and job satisfaction compared with other specialties. Here are eight reasons why.

1. You always have a job. There’s more demand for primary-care physicians than ever before. A recent workforce report by the American Academy of Family Physicians indicated that by 2020, demand for family physicians in the U.S. will exceed the supply. Though the future of the private practice model is a moving target and there may be changes in how and where care will be delivered, it's clear that with physician shortages looming, primary care offers job security for the long haul.

2. Your days are filled with variety. Variety is the spice of life, and what’s cool about primary care is you never know what ailments and issues each day will bring. A steady stream of patients with complaints from mild to serious and spanning the body systems will keep you on your toes in terms of maintaining your diagnostic skills and intellectual engagement.

3. You prevent illnesses as well as treat them. PCPs get to see patients for well visits in addition to sick ones. This allows you to take an active role in guiding health decision-making; monitoring medications and treatments; counseling on healthy eating, smoking cessation, and family planning; and screening for risk factors and health problems before symptoms manifest. Which all adds up to a big opportunity to improve the health and longevity of your patients by keeping them from getting sick in the first place.

4. You're less likely to get sued. In a poll of 5,825 physicians for its 2007-2008 Physician Practice Information survey, the American Medical Association found that specialty physicians such as general surgeons and OB/GYNs were more than five times as likely to be sued than pediatricians and general practitioners. The study also revealed that 70 percent of OBGYNs and surgeons had been sued at least once, while fewer than 40 percent of generalists and 30 percent of pediatricians had ever been sued.

5. You treat the whole patient. Primary-care docs have the opportunity to truly coordinate the healthcare of their patients. Even if a patient sees specialists for specific issues, you are the doc who knows the most about the patient's history, medications, and overall health, and the physician most likely to identify larger problems or patterns. Big responsibility, but also big rewards in the patient relations and job satisfaction departments.

6. You have more opportunity for work-life balance. Primary care offers a lot of choice as to how, where, and how many hours to practice. There are many employment and practice models to choose from, and options for part-time schedules and fewer nights on call. Although many PCPs work hectic schedules packed with patients and paperwork, there are still more options for flexibility and balance than in many specialties.

7. You build long-term relationships with your patients and their families. As a PCP you may treat a patient or whole family for 15 to 20 years or more. You learn your patients' names and about their jobs, children, and hobbies. You see the effects positive and negative life changes have on their health. It's no surprise that primary-care docs remain the most trusted source of health information for their patients. Long-term patient-physician relationships can make your practice feel like a community.

8. You are on the front lines of medicine. Along with ER docs, PCPs are the first line of defense for patients - which means that you see all the newest bugs and ailments first. PCPs are the central players in treating everything from national flu epidemics to local Lyme disease upticks to widespread food poisonings and recalls. It's a role that can be exciting and diagnostically challenging, and that is vital to the success of the healthcare system as a whole.

Abigail Beckel is executive editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at abigail.beckel@ubm.com.

Marisa Torrieri is associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at marisa.torrieri@ubm.com.