In April of 2022, I decided to leave medicine after 18 years of practice, 13 of which were spent working with electronic medical records. During my final visit with a patient and her husband, as I informed them of my decision to retire from medicine, I noticed a peculiar look on the husband’s face. He was a quiet man who rarely said much during their visits, but I could tell he had something to say. With tears welling in his eyes and a quiver in his lips, he stood up, took my hand, and said, “Thank you, young lady, for all that you have done for us. We’ll miss you. Thank you.” This heartfelt expression of gratitude became one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences I had in the days leading up to my departure. Additionally, I received a flood of beautiful messages through the patient portal, making the decision to leave even more difficult.
Like many others, I chose to leave because I had grown tired of staring at a computer screen and tirelessly trying to navigate through numerous boxes to check, which were created merely to satisfy insurance-driven documentation requirements for reimbursement purposes. Many of these boxes seemed irrelevant to the actual quality of care I provided to my patients. The constant search and data entry for orders, tests, and medications had become an exhausting and time-consuming task, reminiscent of working at a fast-food restaurant. It wasn’t that I considered such tasks beneath me or found them difficult, but they drained my energy and consumed time that could have been better spent providing my patients with the attention and care they deserved. We requested additional support, such as scribes or more medical assistants, but were told they were too costly. Moreover, I was frustrated with the pharmaceutical industry’s practices of overpricing their drugs and devices, knowing that insurance companies wouldn’t cover these costs, leaving patients unable to afford necessary treatments. This led to the burdensome need for prior authorizations, samples, rebates, forms, signatures, and an ever-increasing number of inbox tasks throughout the day, all while trying to see patients. It wasn’t just me who faced these pressures; our nurses and other hard-working staff in the office were also affected. As time went on, I felt my brain and soul becoming increasingly numb.
After much contemplation and discussions with my husband, who is also a physician, I made the decision to leave before burnout completely consumed me. I didn’t want to be that “burned out doctor” merely going through the motions without purpose. So, I walked away from my lifelong passion, my purpose, and my livelihood—everything I had ever wanted. Since childhood, I had dreamed of becoming a doctor and had been captivated by the idea of attending medical school. Initially, caring for patients and helping others was an added bonus, enhancing my excitement and intrigue about medicine. However, over the years, I discovered a deeper meaning and purpose in caring for my patients, which extended beyond medical treatment. It involved listening to their stories, understanding their families, their struggles, and their triumphs, and assisting them in finding their “why” to achieve better health. Their well-being became intertwined with my own. Despite my dedication to giving 100 percent to every patient every day, as well as striving to provide the same level of attention and care to my family, I realized that something needed to change.
Dana Fletcher is a physician.