Why the physician path today is far from linear

As a child, the only physician I ever knew was our crusty opinionated and entirely trustworthy family doc. His physician career spanned almost five decades, in one unbroken line from his first days as a GP in solo practice until his retirement, which occurred way past the age at which most of us would like to stop working.

His was the typical physician career, representing continuity, professional satisfaction and a lifelong commitment to a largely stable community of patients.

The other physician I know and admire greatly for these same qualities is my husband, a urologist, who still loves what he does and wouldn’t trade away any of his doctoring in practice for an alternative.

However, I am going to take a provocative stance and argue that these kinds of physician careers, and the men and women, who have created them are a dying breed.

Why do I say this? Online medical training programs, such as online nursing schools, have depreciated the profession, as the quality and exclusivity are compromised

  • Technology has changed the way we work and interact, permitting unprecedented mobility, flexibility and instant access
  • Healthcare organizations, and the healthcare industry in general, are undergoing sea changes that are upsetting the traditional medical practice model and introducing enormous uncertainty
  • The younger generations have come to expect more out of their careers – more gratification, more freedom, more flexibility, more time off, more control over their schedules
  • They are also less tolerant – of authority, of expectations of self-sacrifice, of work that doesn’t give them a sense of purpose, of situations that lack choice and options
  • Even those of us who are boomers are looking for alternatives – seeking more professional fulfillment, greater meaning for the years of work that remain, relief from the “grind”, less stress OR perhaps greater reward for the stress that is innate in being a physician.

How then should you view your physician career?

The signs are pointing to a path that is far from linear. Instead, the physician career of the future is more likely to be comprised of a patchwork of opportunities, some sequential, others simultaneous, in which you will be offered the chance to exercise a wide range of skills:

  • clinical
  • administrative
  • leadership and managerial
  • analytic
  • research-oriented
  • communication, both written and verbal
  • technological
  • inventive and innovative
  • entrepreneurial
  • consultative

Each is a distinctive skill set that you might want to begin honing.

Does this prediction make you anxious? Or does this thrill you?

I find it rich with creative potential.

Philippa Kennealy is a family physician and certified physician development coach who blogs at The Entrepreneurial MD.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Reznick/100000549195050 Steven Reznick

    If at the medical school admission level we screened for individuals like your husband we would continue to have physicians in the profession providing longitudinal care for the bulk of their 

  • JustLiz

    Great post. However, I continue to be somewhat bothered by the mantra that younger physicians are not willing to “self-sacrifice” like the previous generation of doctors. I think this idea goes too often unchallenged.

    I am going to have to conjecture a little here because I am not a historian, but I believe that the job of a physician was much different when America was more centered on small towns. The GP that was available 24-7 for his patients was a part of a small community, where those patients were his friends, community members and family. The line between professional and personal was probably less clear, and there may have been more satisfaction to be had from serving the people one cares about. In our fast-paced modern society those connections are more difficult to form. Physician and patient are often strangers outside of the exam room, and physicians on-call are often meeting the patient for the first time in the middle of an emergency. Longitudinal care is hard to achieve with a mobile society and patients who are forced to change doctors frequently do to job and insurance changes.

    Medical science was also in its infancy. CT scanners and labs did not run 24-7 constantly churning out a stream of unending data to be sorted through.

    When I decided to go to medical school, I understood that it would be a career, not a job. I understood that I would be working long hours and that my “time off” from work would be interrupted by my patients’ needs. I was willing to make that “sacrifice” in exchange for doing work that touched people’s lives. It didn’t seem like a sacrifice because it is what I felt called to do and I couldn’t imagine wanting to spend my free time watching movies when I could be part of the real-life drama of patient care.

    What I am not willing to do is sacrifice my sanity to spending hours going through reams of data and filling out endless paperwork, having my dinner with my husband and son interrupted by pharmacy calls due to insurance company formula changes, etc. So much of what eats up our time does not seem meaningful, and it is easy to resent that and respond by cutting back hours.

    We need real change in healthcare. We need to understand how to transform health care delivery to work in our modern society. Arguing about who was willing to “sacrifice” more does not move us forward.

  • http://greenteaandchocolate.com aaron

    What does online nursing have to do with outdated physician education and practice models?

    • ProudOkie

      It doesn’t. The key word here is “exclusivity”. Nursing denigrates the medical profession according to the author because it compromises quality (she has no data) and exclusivity (she has to share the ball now and can’t go home with it). In other words, “things just aren’t the way they used to be when we were in charge and that was the best way”. The nursing line is the proverbial “sore thumb”. Comments like this only harden us more and further clarifies our resolve. Keep it up with these nasty comments. Most practicing physicians know they only create division and strife. Customers will never allow their NP providers to fade into the background. They have fallen in love with us and if a nasty comment like this is any reflection of how a physician treats their customers, one can see why.

  • Darcie03

    I am a nurse and reading the statement about how online
    nursing schools depreciated the profession stung a bit. Education has changed
    as times have changed; gone are the days of predominantly “traditional”
    nursing students. I myself am non-traditional and take part in a hybrid program
    that is for certain difficult. I am a mother of two and work as an LPN full
    time while attending an accelerated program. Had I not had a hybrid education,
    I wouldn’t be as successful as I am. While I understand where you were coming
    from, it just simply is not an accurate statement. Be kind to your nurses; we
    are your eyes and ears at that bedside. We are highly educated and deserve a
    seat at the table as we truly are your partners in providing safe and optimal
    care for patients and their families.

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