The headlines read “Why Healthcare Workers are Quitting in Droves,” “Docs are Leaving Practice,” and “Physician burnout declared a public health crisis.” The side-gig, financial independence retire early (FIRE), and non-clinical career posts pop up in my daily professional media feeds. Believing in the power of suggestion, I wonder if I should start looking for career number two.
Start. That’s a joke. I have been fantasizing about career number two every weekend I have been on-call since I started practicing. The list is a fabulous assortment of things I have always wanted to do or at least sounded better than what I was doing at the moment: park ranger, dog-walker, neuropsychology researcher, novelist, pianist, personal trainer, entrepreneur. Usually by 7 a.m. Monday, when the pager quiets, my dysphoria also abates, and I can look back on the good that came from my recent misery. It is kind of like childbirth.
There are many reasons my colleagues are leaving in droves. It has been covered exhaustively, so I will not belabor the details. Too much administrative oversight, lack of respect from peers/patients/public, not enough support for non-clinical tasks, compensation challenges, and of course, adapting our practices to a long-haul pandemic are at the top of the list. The cumulative weight of these stressors can be too much to bear. I experience all of these too! Should I carry on? Dog-walkers don’t seem stressed. Why should I stay?
The daily reminders of how terrible it is to be a doctor make me want to mope into work like Eeyore. Instead, I am going to try to find a reason why I should not leave today.
Today, I am not leaving clinical practice because I like the clinical practice part of my job. There is no thrill like coaxing a stubborn tumor out of a person’s head and then having a chat with the person afterward. I am as excited as the patient that they can now raise their leg, use a fork, or say a sentence. If you have ever watched interviews on NOVA or other science shows, you would have noticed how the scientists’ eyes get wide with excitement as they reveal the intriguing secrets behind the humongous fungus or the mystery of eel reproduction. I am that kind of nerd. Brain tumors are fun to remove, and I would like to keep doing that.
Today, I will be excited about the clinical parts and pretend there are no workers’ compensation forms in my inbox that have me quantifying how many hours per day my patient can bend/stoop or do high-impact vibratory tasks (like I can test that in the office?). I will spend more time in front of the patients than in front of the computer screen curating a progress note that the patient will read on MyChart and ask me to edit, please. She was doing BODYPUMP, not yoga, when she hurt her back.
While I am having an inner pity party all weekend long over the dark hour injustice of having to operate on someone who did something stupid and has little chance of surviving, all will be forgotten when they wake up and show me two fingers.
Today I will stay.
Barbara Lazio is a neurosurgeon.
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