Oncologist Myo Thant on the loss of physician camaraderie - and his plan to bring it back.
Early in my 26-year career, it was common for a physician to stop a peer in the hallway to solicit his thoughts about a particular case, or to socialize with him over lunch. For me, these interactions served two purposes. Professionally, they allowed me to tap into the wisdom of another physician; personally, socializing with other doctors alleviated some of the stress I felt.
That era of physician camaraderie has long since passed. We need to bring it back.
We all know that physicians’ stressors are increasing on every front: The pressure to see more patients, the specter of lawsuits, insurance paperwork, rising overhead, decreasing reimbursement. The list goes on. We’re spending more time in the office for less money, while individual patient encounters are getting shorter.
These circumstances make it hard to get to know other doctors or to help mentor younger colleagues. The practice of medicine has become rushed, exhausting - and solitary. The result: Physician morale is plummeting.
A December 2006 survey of 1,200 physicians conducted by the American College of Physician Executives found that six in 10 had considered leaving medicine and two-thirds reported emotional burnout. Just as the baby boomers are beginning to retire, various groups project a serious shortage of physicians. Moreover, the Association of American Medical Colleges recently reported that medical school enrollment per 100,000 people has declined every year since 1980. By 2020, the association’s Center for Workforce Studies projects a shortage of 200,000 doctors.
There’s nothing new about physicians working long hours. But we used to be highly paid and esteemed for doing something noble. Now our incomes are dropping and, far from being societal role models, we’re mere participants in the continuum of healthcare “providers.” There is clearly a crisis in medicine - one that has serious consequences for the mental health of our doctors, and the health of our nation.
I am deeply concerned by the precipitous drop in morale in this field that I love. We may not be able to reverse the troubling trends in healthcare economics, but we can respond by returning to the days of physician comradeship. The need to share with others in similar situations is clearly a universal, cathartic, and basic human need. The exploding popularity of blogs and social networking sites such as MySpace illustrates this.
Physicians are no different. In fact, we may need such outlets even more. But we lack our own social outlets. That’s why I recently retired from practicing medicine and invested my own money to launch RelaxDoc.com. The site, which is free, provides a forum for physicians to anonymously socialize, commiserate, and network. Think of MySpace meets Craigslist - with free access to popular clinical information services - but exclusively for physicians.
At RelaxDoc.com, physicians can discuss work, treatment strategies, start a blog, interact in topical chat rooms, read news feeds, check the latest financial news, or simply hang out, meet other doctors, and talk about their other interests. You can even post your own classified ad for anything from timeshares to medical equipment. The ultimate goal is to encourage more doctors to stay in medicine by helping them decompress through interaction with their peers.
Is a free social and professional networking site for doctors a panacea for medicine’s ills? Certainly not. It’s not the same as sitting down to lunch together. But I’m confident the site will help us all feel more supported, facilitate the bonds of esprit de corps, and keep our batteries more fully charged.
In short, it’s a start.
Myo Thant, MD, an oncologist with 26 years in practice, is the founder of RelaxDoc.com, based in Lutherville, Md. He can be reached at 410 560 7450, contact@RelaxDoc.com, or via email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Physicians Practice.