Every week, there is a new article or blog about physician burnout. According to Business Wire, nearly half (49 percent) of U.S. physicians reported burnout in 2023, up slightly from 2022 (45 percent). It’s the same ideas rehashed repeatedly – doctors are worn out, drowning in paperwork, suffering due to insurance restrictions, and considering early retirement. Even more tragically, some doctors are dying by suicide. It is estimated that around 300–400 physicians per year, or possibly the loss of one doctor daily, die by suicide in the United States.
You see, this isn’t acceptable.
The truth is that careers in medicine are losing their allure. It was like that shiny toy everyone wanted, but to your disappointment, it lost its shine and occurred quickly.
While outsiders may perceive the life of a doctor as amazing, the truth is that only a few enjoy a fabulous and financially comfortable existence. For most, this is far from reality.
My colleagues, this reality might sting – the system hasn’t changed much, and for most, the rate of changes is so slow you will likely not see the changes in your lifetime. So please, stop holding your breath and waiting for a miracle. Don’t get me wrong; some hospital systems do fantastic work, prioritize their team’s health over profits, and make their employees feel valued. I would love to hear if this describes your workplace or business.
I’m going to share a truth that might offend some of you, especially if you feel you have high virtues and medicine should be a life of struggle because your suffering somehow makes the world a better place… (I was once delusional and had that crazy idea… spoiler alert – I burned out).
Thankfully, the COVID-19 pandemic gave me clarity. I could no longer deny that as a physician, we were often treated as dispensing, and we should tolerate abuse and gaslighting because somehow, we are paid by “taxpayer dollars,” which was our duty. I call this BS (bovine scatology). Such rhetoric aims to keep you submissive and jeopardizes your health and personal relationships.
I dare you to work on redefining yourself. Create a life outside of medicine and do not accept mediocre work environments. In my journey of burnout recovery, I learned to give myself grace and allowed myself to acknowledge my desires and embrace the life I wanted. After spending months wanting to bang my head against the wall, I decided that this wasn’t OK, and I created a plan to create the life I wanted. I doubled on self-care, personal development, and physical and mental fitness. I found my passions in life and had renewed energy and motivation.
Here are a few lessons that I realized:
1. You are replaceable to your employers. No job is worth jeopardizing your future. I used to care what other people thought. Now, people’s opinions have limited impacts on me. In your workplace, know your worth, and give unparalleled value to the organization. However, if they fail to see your worth despite a long track record of excellent work, and if, after discussions with your employer, there are no improvements, it might be time to move on.
2. Health care decisions impacting patient care are often made by non-medical individuals, such as politicians or health care professionals who have lost touch with the realities of clinical life or have practiced medicine in a Utopian paradise.
3. Watch people’s actions and do not focus on their words. Spoiler alert, sometimes leaders lie and have no intention of making changes; they only want your vote.
4. Medical careers often need better compensation, considering the risks, exposure, and liabilities. It’s common to find frugal doctors burdened with student loans even after several years of clinical practice. How many frugal doctors do you know that still have student loans and are over five years into clinical practice?
Remember, you can’t change other people’s actions; however, you can and should change yours. Sometimes you must change your mindset and be open to changes, as your future depends on you.