Showcase happy doctors and find out what they’re doing right

Recently, a friend posted a story on my Facebook page: “How Being a Doctor Became the Most Miserable Profession,” Oh no. “Another article on miserable doctors,” I thought. I’m an expert on miserable doctors. I used to be one. Why should I read this? What could I possibly learn? I decided to ignore it.

The next day another friend posted it. Then another. Okay, now it was assigned reading. I steeled myself and plunged in. Two sentences in, I clicked on sheer unhappiness and I was taken to my own photo. It was above a piece I wrote, “Why Doctors Commit Suicide.” In a way I was honored — officially recognized in the miserable doctors’ hall of fame.

Yes, doctors are overworked. Yes, patients get quickie visits. Yes countless doctors dream of retiring or quitting. Many contemplate suicide, and tragically, some even act on those thoughts. So what’s new? Why isn’t the author writing about solutions? Frustrated, I checked my email. Waiting was a message from Daniela Drake, MD, the piece’s author. She wanted to write a follow-up on solutions, and asked to talk about my work helping doctors create more ideal practices.

“Sure, call now,” I responded. It was midnight. We talked for nearly two hours like best friends who hadn’t spoken in years.

One week later, a second Daily Beast article shared my trajectory from misery to joy as a self-employed solo doc in a clinic designed entirely by my patients. At last — solutions!

So why aren’t there more solution-oriented articles? I suspect it’s because so few people are talking about the problem. It is, after all, hard to solve a problem nobody knows exists. When patients see us, it’s in such a professional element — white coats, machine-filled rooms, and buzzing activity. Moreover, people visit doctors to learn about their own health. It’s not part of the deal to think about the stresses inherent to the other side of the exchange.

Now that the conversation’s started, however, it seems to me that we we have two choices: We can try to determine what’s wrong by focusing on miserable doctors and their presumably miserable patients. Or we can showcase the happy doctors and patients to find out what they are doing right.

Throw a pity party and see who shows up, or celebrate solutions? It’s time for the latter. Not solutions by experts, consultants, and politicians. Solutions by real physicians who are seeing real patients and feeling real satisfaction from their jobs.

There are many happy docs out there with replicable, innovative models. How many do you know?

Pamela Wible pioneered the community-designed ideal medical clinic and blogs at Ideal Medical Care. She is the author of Pet Goats and Pap Smears. Watch her TEDx talk, How to Get Naked with Your DoctorThis article originally appeared in The Doctor Blog.

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  • NewMexicoRam

    Sometimes there are happy stories (congratulations) and sometimes there are not. For instance, I’m working under a severe restrictive covenant, but let’s just say I’d have to move more than 25 miles away in order not to break it. Right now, I can’t do that.

    • ninguem

      Restrictive covenants like yours, should be declared unethical by every medical organization in the country.

      • PamelaWibleMD


        • ninguem

          Not a panacea, but I for one have a strong belief that many of the ills physicians face, would evaporate with the simple act of rendering noncompetes null and void, and the unethical practice of medicine.

          An employer will be less likely to…….how to put it……..screw over a young physician……..if that targeted doctor had the option to simply leave and set-up shop across the street, for a competitor.

          Or BECOME the competitor.

          • PamelaWibleMD

            Right. WE are their competitors. The only way we can be kept from competing is with paper chains made out of non-binding contracts.

          • ninguem

            My hospital where I am nominally on staff, they’ve gone through three hospitalist contracts in about seven years.

            The problem is generally the hospitalist management companies, and I suspect unrealistic expectations by the hospital itself.

            BUT…….the problem is usually NOT with individual hospitalists.

            Yet still, when the contracts change, they are all shown the door. They have to pack up their spouse, their children, pull them out of school, all for the greed of hospital administrators and contract management groups.

            I think the practice is reprehensible.

          • PamelaWibleMD

            It is reprehensible. This is an inhumane way to treat the people who are here to heal us.

          • JR

            I hear there are places where the hospitals buy out all the doctor’s offices so they can do the same thing but charge a facilty fee on top of what they were doing. Do non-compete agreements keep them docs from leaving? Those systems are huge, so their coverage area would be huge…

            I can see a “you can’t open a practice within so many feet of the office where you worked” being fair, but “you can’t open a practice within x miles of the health system” is clearly unethical.

      • NewMexicoRam

        Yes, but I don’t have the money to create a landmark case.

        • JR

          Unfortunately a lot of companies are force employees to sign illegal contracts that can’t be enforced – but the threat of litigation is enough to keep employees in line.

          And with all legal matters – without going to court and fighting it you don’t know if it’s truly legal or not, you “might” win or you “might” lose.

          I wonder if there are any non-profits who fight restrictive contracts?

          • ninguem

            I was handed a restrictive covenant in Massachusetts, where restrictive covenants in medical employment contracts are null and void by statute.

            The employer tried to put it in anyway. That’s exactly it, they are just trying to intimidate you legally.

            Lawyers don’t allow this in their own business.

            It’s about time we physicians rose up the the ethical standards of lawyers.

          • PamelaWibleMD

            Yes. Doctors are far too controlled by intimidation. In SO Many areas. Break free from abusive contracts, unethical third parties, bad employers. Geez. We are some of the most intelligent people. Top of our class. And how easily we are controlled. Tragic.

        • ninguem

          Remember this, if you join any professional organization (AMA, state medical association, specialty society). Even a nonbinding consensus statement provides that much more weight when there is a legal battle.

  • JR

    I think this is a good suggestion for businesses who want happier docs. Find out what the happy docs are doing.

    I worry that the businesses really don’t care if their workers are happy (this is a serious mistake for any business). The only power I seem to have is to pay attention to the workers and if they aren’t happy, take my business elsewhere.

    • PamelaWibleMD

      In health care our focus is disease and illness, suffering and pain. Why not study health, wellness, happiness? Find out what the happy healthy patients are doing right? Maybe they have happy, healthy doctors . . . .

  • PamelaWibleMD

    If doctors are victims, then patients learn to be victims. If doctors are discouraged, then patients learn to be discouraged. If we want happy, healthy patients, maybe we should start by filling our clinics and hospitals with happy, healthy doctors.

  • Eis20

    My previous doctor moved last year and was replaced by an obviously miserable doctor. He was cranky, rude, abrupt, insulting…in other words, he was Dr. House (without the brilliance). His patients are leaving him in droves. I had been with the same practice (with various personnel changes) for 35 years. Couldn’t wait to leave. He appears to be old enough to retire. Why would someone continue to practice medicine when they clearly hate it? Please, miserable doctors – do your patients a favor and move on. You’re not hiding your misery as well as you think.

    • PamelaWibleMD

      Doctors need to have mental health services without stigma or fear of repercussions. These miserable doctors were once bright-eyed, bushy-tailed medical students whose primary goal in life was to serve humanity. Tragic.

  • PamelaWibleMD

    When one’s soul is dead there is no communication class, or diversity training seminar that will help. PTSD among our physicians is a huge and underreported phenomenon.

  • PamelaWibleMD

    Yay! If you know any miserable doctors please invite them out to lunch and help them. Doctor means teacher. Those of us who are happy it is our job to take others who could learn from us under our wings.

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