There’s been a lot of talk recently about low morale and disgruntlement among doctors. A recent article on focused on a list of reasons when doctors know it’s time to quit. I found the article a bit sad and unfortunate, but I’m sure the feelings behind it were sincere.
Another excellent article in the Wall Street Journal last week extensively discussed the factors behind poor job satisfaction within our profession. The reasons cited were multiple — ranging from increased bureaucracy to less autonomy.
While articles such as these are timely, I also think it is all too easy sometimes to just focus exclusively on the negatives. It’s human nature. Many physicians may be unhappy with their career choice, but leaving medicine completely and quitting would be a sad outcome. Going part-time or having more freedom within your job is perhaps one thing (I am open to that too, for my own reasons). But I don’t think I would ever be able to stop practicing medicine completely. Several years post-residency, I still enjoy being a doctor as much as ever and find it an incredibly rewarding profession. Here are my own 5 reasons why no physician should ever quit:
1. Being a physician is still very special. Yes, despite all the drawbacks, being a doctor is still a uniquely special job. This is especially so when we make it all about our patients. The personal bonds we get to form with patients and their families as we strive to use our skills to get them better outweighs most of the negatives that come our way during the course of the day. The amount of trust placed in our decisions is humbling. I always tell my residents to never forget that we have the opportunity to do more good in one day than most people have in a month. In our job, you will never go home at the end of the day thinking that you haven’t done something valuable and important.
2. What will happen to the good voices? Unfortunately, it’s often the more humanistic and sensitive doctors who may get disillusioned first. If all the good ones leave, who is left?
3. Job security and respect. Again, despite all the perceived challenges to practicing medicine these days, compared with other jobs, being a doctor is an unusually secure vocation for this day and age. It is also held in high respect by society. Opinion polls of the general public consistently rate doctors at or near the top of respected professions.
4. The grass is not always greener. Yes, it’s a cliché, but the grass really isn’t always greener on the other side. I can think of dozens of friends and relatives who are unhappy with the corporate culture and 9-to-5 drudgery in their seemingly well-paid and glamorous jobs. I remember an Australian paramedic once telling me when I did my medical school elective in Adelaide that he was thinking of changing career not long before and that he came to the realization one day that, “A lot of any job is what you make of it.” This motivated him to find other goals and interests within his field, and he became a lot happier and fulfilled as a result. Those words still stick with me all these years later.
5. Count our blessings in this age of medicine. This really is a very lucky time to be living. For most of human history, average life expectancy hovered in the 20s and 30s. Not so long ago I read Team of Rivals, the award-winning book about Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Aside from the intriguing political nature of the book, it also provided a vivid insight into life in mid 19th century America — only 150 years ago. As a doctor, I was particularly struck by how so many people were losing many, if not most, of their children and siblings by a young age. This was largely due to the scourge of infectious diseases that have ravaged humanity until relatively recently. Mankind has made miraculous strides in the last 100 years, and it is so easy to take for granted. We practice medicine that our historical ancestors could only dream of, and we have access to amazing treatments and cures for our patients on a daily basis. A bit of perspective always helps when we think about our problems.
As generally smart people, doctors will always be prone to boredom and a general feeling of monotony. Like all intelligent minded people, we seek control and autonomy in our profession. There’s nothing wrong with that. The reality is that most of us can have other equally if not more financially rewarding career options if we look hard and are savvy enough. At its best, medicine is a wonderful profession. At its worst, it can destroy you. But please think twice before turning your back on it.
As for me, do I regret choosing medicine? Absolutely not. Although I trained to be a doctor in a different system (the United Kingdom) I can tell you that many of the problems of physician burnout and stress are exactly the same over there. But despite the negatives, I think the positives are far more enduring. Medicine has allowed me to be educated by some of the best teachers, travel the world, and meet some of the most inspirational people (including patients) along the way. It has allowed me to grow as a person and gain perspective that I could never have otherwise gained. It’s been a fascinating journey, and I have no regrets.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.
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