Primary care is a field that is both highly rewarding and highly challenging. Those who enter into it quickly find that they are rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing they are playing a vital role in the lives of their patients. However, they also soon realize the immense responsibility of the job. There are always more patients that need to be seen, more phone calls that need to be returned, and more paperwork to be completed. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.
When I started family practice, I was single, with no children, and frankly, my only hobby was working. I buried myself into my job, working multiple 24-hour shifts for days and weeks, plus long days at the office and in the hospital. I was young and enthusiastic and happy to make a difference in my community. When I look back at my younger say, I do not know how I had the energy to work as much as I did, and frankly, I took on too much.
When my life changed with the arrival of children, I started to crack with all the challenges that come with that. I was torn between caring for myself when I was sick with pregnancy-related complications and the conflicting responsibilities of owning a practice and having a large patient practice.
The COVID pandemic has been an unprecedented time for everyone, especially for those in the medical field. The increased workload and the concerns about exposure to the virus have taken a toll on many physicians. In addition, the restrictions on social support have made it difficult to cope with the added stress. For many, the pandemic has been a time of immense exhaustion, both physically and emotionally.
I know of physicians who have decided to retire early and switch careers entirely. There have been challenges long before the pandemic started, but the current conditions made things worse. The physician crisis is an issue that can be ignored. The pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and the way we practice medicine is no different. We are struggling with exhaustion, both physical and mental. We are seeing an influx of sicker patients than we have ever seen before. And we are facing unprecedented challenges in our personal lives as well. It is no wonder that so many of us are considering early retirement or a career change.
The pandemic, and all the social challenges, forced me to rethink my career, and like many others, I chose to pivot and still embrace my primary career, but in a more holistic manner. As physicians, we owe it to ourselves to take care of our health and family first. Until all health care systems recognize and support this, the primary care crisis will continue.
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