I'm Not OK; You're Not OK

June 1, 2004

Job dissatisfaction isn't just for physicians. The new economy takes a toll on everyone.

It's old news that physicians are less and less happy with their careers. The data are ubiquitous:

  • Seventy-six percent of mid- to late-career physicians find the practice of medicine less satisfying than they did five years ago, according to a recent survey of physicians 50 to 65 years old conducted by Merritt, Hawkins & Associates. Fifty-two percent wouldn't choose a career in medicine if they had it to do over.
  • The percentage of primary-care physicians who consider themselves very satisfied with their careers dropped from 42 percent in 1997 to just 39 percent in 2001, according to an article in the January 22, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
  • The Pennsylvania Medical Society reports that 33 percent of physicians wouldn't choose a career in medicine if they could choose again.

Pressured to see more patients more quickly, physicians are justifiably dissatisfied. They are working harder but feel less secure.

What's less known, at least among doctors, is that job dissatisfaction is hardly unique to them. 

The professionals in my book club, the working moms in my toddler's music class, my journalism colleagues -- everyone feels pressure to work harder and longer and no one feels sure they can pay the bills tomorrow. Everyone in my immediate social circle works every weekend -- and these are all upper-middle-class intellectual types who seemingly should not have to worry about making ends meet. For all the talk in recent years about work-life balance, Americans actually seem wildly out of balance.

For example, a 2000 study by the nonprofit Conference Board, which surveyed 5,000 United States households, found that only 50.7 percent of respondents overall said they're satisfied with their current jobs. A 2002 survey by Computer World magazine found that 36 percent of its high-tech respondents are somewhat or very dissatisfied with their jobs.

What gives?

In The Future of Success, Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor, argues that in a global and highly competitive environment, it not only seems harder to make a life and a living, it actually is harder. All the advantages of our fast-paced economy also carry costs, he says, including the need to work hard and fast, fearful of an insecure future.

Reich writes, "The rewards of the new economy [sudden investment jumps, globalization, new opportunities] are coming at the price of lives that are more frenzied, less secure, more economically divergent, and more socially stratified."

There is no doubt that physicians bear a special burden in the new economy. Few other professionals are expected to do so much for so little or tolerate as much federal interference. Still, for better or worse, it's worth pointing out that physician pressures aren't entirely caused by the healthcare economy; some of it has to do with the New Economy. In that regard, you are not alone.

Do you buy it? Let me know by writing to me at pmoore@physicianspractice.com or chat with colleagues about stress and modern life at http://groups.msn.com/
PhysiciansPracticeRabbleRousers.

This article originally appeared in the June 2004 isue of Physicians Practice.