Physicians are trained to be autonomous problem solvers; enduring solitary, long hours on-call during internships and residencies. But that tendency to function independently can be a downfall when it comes to dealing well with workplace stress. Case in point: The rate of physician suicide is alarmingly high. According to an article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, more than 400 physicians committed suicide in 2015. There are initiatives that have been launched to address the increasing stress that physicians — both those in training and in mid-career — find themselves under, but seemingly little headway has been made.
KrisEmily McCrory, an academic family medicine physician who practices in upstate New York at Ellis Family Medicine Residency, is frank about the stresses that she and her physician colleagues find themselves under. "I think the biggest challenge is that doctors are no longer in charge. But, at the same time, it is our licenses and our liability [at risk]. We get all the brunt when something goes wrong, but we really don't have any say to make sure things don't go wrong," she says. "It just gets to be really exhausting."
Yet that doesn't mean physicians are ready to throw in the towel. By any means. Eighty-four percent of 1,000 physician respondents said they like being a physician, according to Physicians Practice’s 2015 Great American Physician Survey, sponsored by Kareo. And when asked if they would do things differently, 56 percent of physicians, a slight majority, said they would choose the same career path as they originally did.
If you find yourself wondering how you can continue to experience the joy in practicing medicine without changing careers, here's how to protect yourself from soul-sucking angst.
CAN'T GET NO SATISFACTION
Ask most physicians and they will likely tell you that the practice of medicine has changed drastically over the last 10 years. Consider that the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, responsible for creating the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program, was signed into law early in 2009. While the promise of universally accessible and interoperable health IT is tantalizing, the reality is still a long way off. Yet, physicians have few choices when it comes to EHR adoption, as the government has moved into the penalty phase of Meaningful Use for nonusers. And even though the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has said Meaningful Use is officially "going away" fairly soon, it is really just morphing into another government program where physicians will need to meet a new set of quality metrics.
According to Catherine Hambley, an organizational psychologist and founder of LeapFrog Consulting, based in Monterey, Calif., the single-most noxious threat to physician satisfaction is the EHR. "I am hearing more physicians become completely demoralized by what [the EHR] has done to their ability to really provide the kind of personalized and quality patient care [they wish to give patients]," she says.