Physicians Must Take Action to Improve Career Satisfaction

April 9, 2014

All of the complaints voiced by physicians are valid and real, but taking on the role of victim makes matters worse.

I came across a number of news articles and commentary this week that highlight the many challenges physicians face.

They include:

• An NPR story about a physician who was always struggling to keep up with his schedule, worked very long hours, and saw no prospect for improvement.
• An article about physicians' propensity to PTSD and suicide.
• A LinkedIn discussion about common HIPAA misconceptions that is leaning strongly toward a conclusion that compliance is simply not possible.
• And, of course, a multitude of articles on Congress' decision to delay an SGR fix and ICD-10 implementation for another year.

Almost on cue, I also came across a blog post written by "The Happy MD," family physician Dike Drummond. He makes several excellent points and draws an important conclusion.  To paraphrase:
1. Physicians are facing tremendous challenges:  EHRs, ICD-10, Obamacare.  Work never lets up and pressures continue to grow.  (I would add HIPAA Security Rule compliance and the SGR.)
2. All of the complaints voiced by physicians are valid and real.
3. Physicians are crying out for a white knight to rescue them from a clearly untenable situation.
4. There is and will be no white knight who will make everything OK again.
5. Looking for rescue makes physicians victims, who are completely at the mercy of uncontrollable forces.

Drummond's conclusion: Complaining and dreaming of rescue distracts victims from what they can do to help themselves.

There is nothing more stressful than being a victim, to believe that powerful forces are aligned against you and you cannot win.  The natural response to that conviction is learned helplessness, which leads to passive acceptance of miserable events and conditions.  It is an awful way to exist.

The opinion page of the Wall Street Journal recently provided an example of what can happen when a physician abandons complaining in favor of taking action.  It included an article written by Alan J. Bank, MD, director of research at the United Heart & Vascular Clinic of Allina Health in St. Paul.

The crux of his position is, "There are many new opportunities if we are willing to be creative." Bank was dissatisfied with the impact of an EHR on both his productivity and interaction with patients.  He tried medical scribes and discovered that they could effectively address all of his known issues and more. 

His situation required action on his part, both initially and in refining the solution to get the results he sought in terms of clinic operations and costs.  Some of his partners were able to replicate his solution with similar positive results, leveraging Bank's investment of time and effort.

It is important to note that Bank acknowledges that there are many serious issues in healthcare that his solution does not address.  There is no silver bullet that will fix everything.  That is no excuse to fix nothing.

To be trite and quote an old Chinese proverb: It's better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. 

It is often amazing how much light that candle can produce.  If nothing else, striking the match will make you feel better.