If you are considering quitting the medical profession, then you may take some comfort in the knowledge that a large number of America's physicians considering the same thing. While job burnout is a factor in any profession, it is has become a serious issue in the medical profession as long hours, undersized salary and diminished job satisfaction strain the healthcare industry. According to recent studies, the difficult conditions in most medical settings have led to various stages of burnout among almost half of all physicians. Dr. Tait Shanafelt, who conducted the study for the Mayo Clinic, found that almost 45.8 percent of physicians, especially those primary and emergency care, were exhibiting at least one symptom of burnout; more importantly, this number is higher than in years past when the numbers were between 30 and 40 percent.
What is driving this mass dissatisfaction? There are a multitude of factors which have pushed medical professionals to throw in the towel. The Shanafelt study found that while long hours is a major contributor to job dissatisfaction both in the medical profession as well as other professions, the high levels of burnout in healthcare are related to issues unique to the practice of medicine. A 2012 study by the Urban Institute found that almost 30 percent of physicians aged 35 to 49 in primary care were planning to leave their practice within five years and, among those over 50, almost 52 percent were planning to retire or change professions.
Major Job Dissatisfaction Factors
A Medscape 2013 survey found that the most important factor in job dissatisfaction was too much paperwork. The practice of medicine has become inundated with bureaucratic red tape, in large part due to a proliferating number of health insurance organizations and oversight requirements. In many cases, almost one third of the work day is devoted to paperwork. This has serious implications for the quality of care as physicians allocate less time to individual patients and consultations. This declining interaction with patients is also a major factor in demoralizing caregivers.
Among the top five reasons for professional exhaustion was insufficient income. While there are, of course, high paying specialties like orthopedic surgery, cardiology and urology with salaries from $461,000 to $519,000 on average, most front line doctors earn about $189,000. These primary care physicians are often the most beleaguered with oversized caseloads and constant demands from accountable care organizations, which is sapping their enthusiasm for clinical care and encouraging them to switch to a more lucrative specialty.
To the typical person, a six figure income may appear to be more than generous, but the increasing financial burdens of school loans (accrued over a lengthy education), business overhead and growing malpractice premiums are crippling the professional independence of many new doctors. Many of these physicians would leave the profession if they could find a career that was as lucrative and less demanding.
The most compelling cause of disillusionment in medicine is the reduced quality of care for most patients. The vast majority of physicians chose this profession to help those in need, but in the high traffic environment of the modern managed care system, the standard of care is quickly eroding. Too many cases and bureaucratic hurdles are frustrating even the most generous of caregivers and diminishing their ability to effectively treat patients.
Modern quality of life is utterly dependent upon medical science and its practitioners. Without physicians millions of man-years of life would be lost, along with its accompanying productivity, technological innovation and cultural improvements. One of the most pressing challenges of our day is to convince the healthcare industry, government and the public that there is an ongoing crisis in the medical profession, one that requires immediate action.
Article written by:
Robert Moghim, M.D.
CEO, Health Carousel Locum Tenens