Why would anyone want to become a physician?
Good question, given the current atmosphere of doom and gloom amongst my colleagues and peers.
Like most folks, when one has worked at the same job for 10, 20, 30, and even 40 years, the human spirit does need replenishment. Many pubic servants (and that is what we are), police, fire department personnel, correction officers have some things very much in common. Stress. Stress-related disability is actually a compensated employment related disability category.
Medicine is stressful, but not so much about the art and science of medical practice. Some things are life threatening, but for most MDs, the day is routine. Perhaps in some specialties such as cardiology, surgery, ophthalmology where the outcomes are critical to life and function, stress levels may be chronically higher. However the education and training process tends to self-select those built for that type of environment. And some people thrive on stress.
Stress and anxiety increase in situations over which any person has little if any choice in the outcome. And that is precisely what is eroding physician satisfaction with their chosen career.
Danielle Ofri recently wrote in the New York Times about the issue.
There are many avenues to reduce the stresses. Time outs, and frequent breaks, shorter work weeks, eliminating specific stress related non-clinical tasks, second careers, for instance. These avenues are available to private practice physicians. Even a horizontal move to perhaps a group practice.
Becoming a physician not only creates a vast knowledge base in health care, but also many other skills that are transportable to other occupations. Even without an MBA, doctors who have run their own practice have considerable skills in business management. Like me, some turn to writing, some are gifted in the arts, music, theater, performance art, philosophy and others.
I remember a mentor who practiced medicine until he was over 80-years old. He told me not to work in a hospital prior to med school, take a wide variety of courses in humanities, liberal arts and save the sciences for medical school, except for the essential pre-requisites. Knowing the basic soul of a man was a key ingredient in leading one back to health.
And when my day is done and I give myself the inevitable “career talk,” I tell myself that there is nothing else I’d rather do in my life than medicine. If I had it to do all over again, I’d end up right here.
Life has its seasons. Mine is now being a physician and a patient advocate, and bring us together in the pursuit of safer medical care, keeping corporatization of medicine at bay, resisting the significant and insidious cancer of government and insurance directed medical care and reflecting whatever wisdom I have obtained on to the next generation of doctors. I am happy they have come along to take care of my patients.
Wisdom is not the memorization and regurgitation of facts. It is the ability to step back, observe mistakes, change behavior patterns, and pass that along to willing listeners in medicine, politics and social planners. To do less when one has the time and willingness and remaining passions would be shameful.
Gary Levin is a physician who blogs at Health Train Express.
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