Doctors leaving medicine & how combating burnout could lessen the desire to drop out
by Kevin Pezzi, MD
24% of the physicians responding to a survey said “they plan to drop out of clinical practice in the next 1 to 3 years by switching jobs. Of those, half said they plan to find a nonclinical job within healthcare, while the other half plan to leave healthcare entirely.”
This may surprise many people who assume that being a doctor is one of the best jobs in the world. Having worked so hard for so long to become licensed physicians and surgeons, isn't it alarming that one-quarter want out?
In reality, the percentage of doctors who want to leave greatly exceed the percentage who plan to soon leave. Of the countless doctors I've known, only a few loved their jobs; the overwhelming majority continued only because they felt trapped by mortgages, student loan debt, spouses, children, and other financial obligations. If doctors could make comparable money in other occupations, even noxious ones, most would leave medicine in a flash.
I am much fonder of my profession now that I no longer work in clinical medicine. When I did, as an ER doctor, and for years afterward, I was so burned out that it negatively affected everything in my life, professionally and personally. Now that I've recovered from that burnout, I am much happier, kinder to myself and others. You can see the difference if you read what I wrote during my cranky years (it is still posted on my websites) versus what I wrote recently. Notably, I wasn't just cranky about medicine, I was cranky about politics, slow drivers (now I am one! :-), and on and on.
Emergency medicine is obviously a stressful career, but I spent most of mine working in a pressure cooker ER in a busy, understaffed, high-acuity emergency department replete with problems that were rarely solved by an administration that, for example, didn't care that an intoxicated (and likely sociopathic) nurse was working and intentionally doing things that could have harmed patients.
However, I can't blame all of my burnout on hospitals or the profession; some of it came from a medical problem I had that I described in my blog: My nightmarish experience with objective tinnitus. I am not trying to excuse my burnout, but after getting only a few nights of refreshing sleep in the past decade, it was no wonder I was burned out.
I am far from the only doctor to suffer burnout. The medical profession has no great solutions to that problem. I discovered some very effective antidotes that I'll later write about. In the Q&A pages of this site and my other ER site (ERbook.net), I presented some preventive measures, and I'll later add others. I discussed a related subject in my blog: Having more pleasure than you ever imagined: Is that possible or a pipe dream? Pleasure is one of the antidotes to burnout.
My point in mentioning this is to give you good reason to not fear burnout if that is one of the concerns giving you second thoughts about a medical career.