Questioning My Decision to Become a Physician

October 9, 2014

Despite all the roadblocks to career fulfillment, my original, idealistic view of becoming a physician is still relevant and meaningful to me today.

I've found there are many hassle factors in practicing medicine: getting reimbursement from payers, implementing EHR, patient satisfaction surveys, and the Affordable Care Act, to name just a few. Most physicians would agree that the healthcare system in America is broken. In addition, physicians are vulnerable to legal attacks such as malpractice and defamation lawsuits. All these challenges make me question my professional choice to become a physician; and all equate to stress in my professional life, often spilling into my life outside of the office.

I believe physicians' opinions still have weight within their communities, as they did in the past; however, that respect and clout has begun to waver due to many factors. Poor relationships with insurance companies, corporate hospitals that are more concerned about the bottom line, and advertising by attorneys warning of bad drugs, poor medicine, and incompetent doctors, are just a few. The first month in my practice, I felt like road kill: Drug representatives, hospitals, insurance companies, recruiters, laboratories, home-health agencies, medical equipment vendors, etc., were all hovering like vultures, pondering, "What piece of her can I get today?"

All of my family members were extremely proud of me when I graduated from medical school, and many friends thought I was very intelligent, having "MD" behind my name. I commended myself for having endurance to finish the race. However, once I felt like I had reached a stable place in life with my career and family, there is no doubt I questioned my decision to become a physician. Especially so at my 10-year high school reunion when I realized how much a few of my high school friends earned from their jobs - the Wall Street boys and hedge fund managers.

To be honest, it made me want to rethink my career path. Yet, money was not the only impetus for these thoughts. The intricacies of coding rules, health insurance, the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate formula, and politics make my professional outlook dim and my view pessimistic.

Being a physician also has a significant impact on my personal life. The work opportunities are endless; sometimes, I believe I'd qualify as a "workaholic." It is a fine line that I walk daily. I feel most physicians struggle with guilt over time spent away from their families. There is great pressure to earn an adequate salary - especially with the amount of debt incurred during our lengthy medical educations.

Many occasions, friends call to ask my opinion for their own medical conditions. I willingly give them advice and recommendations without any hesitation. I find myself thinking twice before I post on Twitter or Facebook, as I don't want any business colleagues, patients, or professionals to be offended by my religious, political views, or thoughts of the day.

Despite all these roadblocks to career fulfillment, my original, idealistic view of being a physician is still relevant and meaningful to me: Face-to-face visits with my patients who look me in the eye (sometimes with tears) and tell me that I have helped them, changed their life, saved their life/marriage, or been a blessing to them. Those comments keep me going and are gentle reminders that I made the right choice in becoming a physician, and in choosing to stay one.

Elizabeth Seymour, MD, practices family medicine at Medical Associates of Denton in Texas and is a member of the Physicians Practice Physician Advisory Board.Do you regret your choice of profession? Tell us at editor@physicianspractice.com. Unless you say otherwise, we'll assume that we're free to publish your comments in print and online.

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Physicians Practice.