The medical landscape for practicing physicians is changing. Seemingly the option of “hanging one’s shingle,” being your own boss, setting your schedule, and providing personalized care in a warm and cozy environment, “Marcus Welby style,” isn’t a viable option anymore.
Rather, graduating physicians are choosing between the options of becoming a hospital-employed physician, hospitalist, employed physician in a large multispecialty group, joining the faculty at an academic institution, or, sadly, electing not to practice clinical medicine at all.
I’ve experienced all of these practice scenarios and feel that no one option fits all and not one option fits each phase of a physician’s professional and personal life. Given the high rates of physician burnout and the known relationship between loss of physician autonomy and subsequent burnout, I feel the option of private practice should be promoted and maintained as a viable career opportunity for physicians. Maintaining this practice option can help remedy physician burnout by allowing doctors to run their practices in the manner they feel is best for their patients and their lifestyle, thus enabling the proper work-life balance to be achieved.
My career in medicine has encompassed work experiences in academic medicine, large multispecialty group practice, hospitalist work, locum tenens work, part-time, full-time, self-imposed sabbaticals to care for children, nonclinical jobs, and private practice. Each of these experiences has allowed me to achieve career growth through professional successes and failures as well as personal introspection. For me, currently owning a solo gynecology private practice coupled with earning income from several side gigs has propelled me past phases of physician burnout and allowed me to provide the best care possible to my patients and a pleasant work environment for my employees. I feel that by developing a career portfolio, I have been able to maintain optimal work-life balance, maintain my professional stamina, and continue to seek out and explore new opportunities.
I strongly encourage newly trained physicians and other physicians at various stages of their careers to explore private practice models of care. Medical schools and residencies should incorporate basic business skills education into their curricula along with private practice mentorship.
The reality is that if you can balance a checkbook, run a lemonade stand or organize a garage sale, you can build and run a private practice. It doesn’t take an MBA or online education to succeed. Private practice revenues may not meet your expected budget, but by leveraging side gigs, you can continue to see patients at a pace that allows you to run on time, maximize billing and provide the best care for your patients.
Nurturing long-term relationships with people is what keeps those of us in private practice going. Hearing our patient’s stories, partnering with them to achieve optimal health, and getting to know them intimately is rewarding for everyone. My hope is that those of us working in private practice settings will mentor and inspire others to do the same. Preserving physician autonomy is one step towards putting the practice of medicine back in physicians’ hands.
Helen Rhodes is an obstetrician-gynecologist.
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