We know the statistics. More than 50 percent of physicians are experiencing burnout at the hands of EMRs, a nonexistent work-life balance and regulatory constraints to name a few. This is causing physicians to leave clinical medicine and find other work. Some are opting for nonclinical administrative roles, and others are leaving altogether for careers outside of medicine. This is adding to the shortage of physicians that we were already facing as a nation.
The chronic stress that leads to burnout is causing physicians to become disengaged with their work and raising feelings of anger, resentment, guilt, and sadness. When these emotions surface, it can often lead to a quick emotional response. In this case, the response would be a physician deciding to leave medicine: a career that took years of training and sacrifice of time and money.
So how can physicians be sure that their decision is sound and not based on the emotions of being fed up with the system and having to climb obstacles daily? Responses that are based on emotions can often lead to negative long-term consequences. Once the emotion wears off, you’re left with a decision that may not be the right one for you or your family.
An emotional response can occur when you are faced with an external event that triggers an emotion. In this case, let’s say it’s the constant frustration with your EMR. It takes you too long to document your office notes, it gets in the way of you communicating with patients, and it’s difficult to manage the everchanging templates and requirements. The chronic exposure to this event triggers an emotion of anger. Anger then causes you to release hormones that elicits a feeling. That feeling could be frustration, anxiety or insecurity. The feeling that you are experiencing every day, then leads you to respond. The response, which could be leaving medicine, is based on a feeling and may not be well thought out. It’s not based on taking a long hard look at the situation and working through the many options that you may have.
So, it’s important before jumping ship, to make sure that you have a well thought out plan; one in which you have looked at all the possibilities. This is true because sometimes when decisions are made based on emotions it may not be what you truly want. Sometimes you may need to explore if there are other options that you can try to make work more meaningful, to better balance work and family and to give you the life you want.
The reason a physician feels like leaving medicine is multifactorial. Often, there may be other underlying circumstances that you are not conscious of that may be impacting your decision like your current personal experiences, family, children, past unresolved issues or fear.
The first thing you need before making a decision to leave is a good measure of self-awareness. To manage a career transition, you need to have a deep understanding of self. You must be aware of your own strengths, beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and behavior. If you carry the same thoughts, emotions, and behavior that you have about your current situation into a new career, those same problems will resurface in a different way.
You must change the negative thoughts that so many physicians have such as thinking that taking care of self is not important or that asking for help is a sign of weakness. You must change the learned behavior of not showing emotion as this not only hurts your ability to form relationships with others, but it also hinders your own ability to seek help for your own emotional and mental well-being. A physician who is self-aware can change the way they react to life’s challenges and learn techniques to combat stress and thrive in new environments. First, you must speak the truth about your situation and get help from a mental health counselor if needed.
Take time to think it through. There are rare instances you need to make quick decisions about your career transition. Once you have decided that leaving is an option, spend some time on internal reflection. Develop a quiet space where you can go to unwind and allow the noise in your head to disappear. New ideas and solutions will begin to emerge.
Ask yourself these questions:
What was the initial reason I went into medicine?
What did I expect or hope to get out of it?
What is different today about my feelings, values, and passions?
Think about your response. Take time to reflect. Talk it through with a coach who can help you explore your inner feelings, get to the heart of your strengths, help you overcome obstacles to be able to get back in the saddle and find joy again and help you to take action and get you from where you are, to where you want to be in your career and life.
Explore ways that you may be able to use your talents, gifts, and passions to match your next career choice. Make sure it’s the right fit and not just a job to escape what you are going through now. Your ultimate goal is to be fulfilled, happy and healthy.
Lisa Herbert is a family physician who blogs at Just the Right Balance.
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