Katy Brodski-Quigley, MD, worked in a mid-sized family medicine practice for a few years after medical school. Then she set up a private practice. In both situations, she was unhappy with the work-life balance. “I felt like I was always on call and the paperwork was piling up,” she recalls. “It kept eating into my life.”
To earn more income as her practice grew, Brodski-Quigley started to work shifts at an urgent care center. She found she liked working in a setting where more tasks were supported by medical assistants, and her schedule was more consistent. She now works full time in an urgent care center in Waltham, Mass. “I think I am in a much better place now financially and sanity-wise, and I am a better physician because I like going to work. During the last month of my primary care career, I dreaded going to work.”
Brodski-Quigley’s experience points to a trend in which an increasing number of physicians who are working more than 40 hours per week either make changes to their practice or find new jobs to avoid burnout and gain more control over their careers.
In the 9th annual Physicians Practice Great American Physician Survey, about 66 percent of respondents said they worked more than 40 hours most weeks. Not surprisingly, 29 percent said the main reason they would prefer to work somewhere else is to work better hours or achieve greater work-life balance. Also, 63 percent of respondents agreed they don’t have as much time for their personal life as they think they should have.
Burnout is a dilemma you must address with a strategy and a coordinated set of actions, says Dike Drummond, MD, author of Stop Physician Burnout and CEO of TheHappyMD.com, an online source of tools and coaching resources. “When you are really burned out, all you have in mind is escape,” he says. Some doctors leap into a new situation and realize their new situation is even worse. “They jumped from the frying pan into the fire,” he adds. Drummond says during individual coaching sessions, he tries to help physicians focus less on what they don’t like about their current situation and more on what they envision their ideal working situation to be and work toward that goal.
Physicians Practice spoke with physicians who made career changes or changes in their practice to regain a better work-life balance. Here are some ways physicians can gain more autonomy and reduce stress as owners or employed physicians.
Shake up your schedule
Eva Martin, MD, is an obstetrician gynecologist in Dublin, Ga. She has owned her own solo practice and worked in large health systems, such as the Veterans Administration (VA). She says the work at the VA was rewarding but also taxing in many ways because of the large bureaucracy. A few years ago, she decided to make a change and work three days per week in rural clinics for the Georgia Department of Public Health.
She says working in two rural clinics is gratifying. Her team was able to start a prenatal clinic for indigent care in one county, and they started offering care for transgender patients in another. She ends up driving long distances to the rural clinics—up to four hours per day round-trip. Martin says she enjoys driving on back roads and see feels productive because she listens to audiobooks or continuing education material.
Although she does not earn as much as she used to, Martin says she is much happier. “The staff is very dedicated to taking care of patients, and the patients we see are very thankful to be taken care of,” she says. “You feel appreciated.”
Find the right work environment
Kerry Swindle, MD, a family medicine physician in Tucson, Ariz., believes she has found the right balance by practicing independently but in a physician cooperative. Arizona Community Physicians has its own imaging centers, lab, and helps with group billing and purchasing. The 54 practices in its membership can set their own schedules. “We have doctors who work 12 to 14 hours per day seeing 60 patients, while I will see 10 to 20,” Swindle says. “I can leave when I want and take as much time off as I want. I am not beholden to an owner. I took two weeks off last year to go to New Zealand.” She isn’t set to a schedule, but there is a catch: she doesn’t get paid when she doesn’t work.