How physicians’ grit is being taken advantage of

A vivid memory stands out from my career.

Driving home from the hospital at 3 a.m., I reflected upon my most recent patient’s middle of the night delivery. It wasn’t an easy delivery, as they often aren’t. However, in the end, we had a healthy mom and baby and the family couldn’t have been happier — nor could I.

I felt a sense of gratitude as I was driving in the darkness and eerily quiet interstate. I couldn’t imagine a job better than mine or anywhere else I would rather be working. Despite the fact that it pulled me from my bed at all hours of the night and being emotionally and physically exhausted, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I felt so lucky to be in a career that gave immense personal satisfaction, while helping others, and it paid me well. What’s not to love?

This is how we should all feel with our medical careers. Every day won’t be perfect, but there should be an overall sense of accomplishment and knowing that you are right where you should be. But what if this changes? Are you prepared to change course?

Grit is a popular term lately. Its something that all of us have, but some seem to have a greater proportion than others. I commonly see it among medical school applicants. Usually, they are the captain of an athletic team, a marathon runner, or someone who has overcome obstacles and challenges. It’s a strength of character: courage and resolve.

I would venture to say I’m not particularly smarter than anyone else. I would say that is true of most successful people. What often differentiates a success story from one of “floating through life” is grit. How hard someone is willing to work and stick with something is what in the end makes a successful person.

Hopefully, most people are finding joy in their medical careers. There is much to be excited about with new advances in medicine: the pride obtained when mastering a new skill, lifelong learning, and of course the sense of purpose that comes with helping others.

Of late, for many in the medical field, their careers have morphed into something that no longer espouses these ideals. Perhaps it is time to evaluate how to change the circumstances. Maybe a new employer or even self-employment through private practice. It might mean lobbying for patient rights or malpractice reform. It may be something a simple as hiring a scribe to combat the mindless data entry that accompanies the electronic health record.

But what if you want to make a big change, a drastic change? Are you ready for it? Financial literacy is something that would never come to mind for most physicians. However, this is what will ultimately provide the freedom to make choices about your life and leap into new ventures. It is not something we are taught but should actively seek. If you can figure out how to place a chest tube, perform a cesarean section, or manage complicated kidney disease, you can certainly learn how to provide your family with financial freedom.

No one should stay in a career because they feel obligated or have no alternative to replace the lost income. Our determination, and “grit,” may keep us in a situation longer than we ought to stay. Most medical professionals are perfectionists to a fault, and a change of career would go against their indoctrinated mantra of “sticking with it” and sacrificing ourselves for what is best for our patients. Unfortunately, this character trait has been taken advantage of by administrators and insurance companies.

Most of us in medicine think we have no interest or knowledge in the area of personal finance. However, we also don’t want to be taken advantage of anymore. We want better for our patients and ourselves. Financial freedom doesn’t have to mean leaving a career in medicine. Not a single person I know went into medicine for the money; there are much faster and easier paths to a high-income career. Instead, most medical professionals pursued the degree with the most altruistic of intentions, but should they be denied personal choice and freedom? When health care was run by physicians we were able and willing to sacrifice luxuries in life (even time) because the means to an end was justified. The outcome was something of a common goal for patient and physician. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case when administrators and insurance companies are in charge. Money and productivity become the bottom line and physicians become an end to “their” means.

I urge fellow physicians to take charge of their finances so that we are not dependent upon a health system which abuses the “grit” and work ethic of most physicians. Being in control of your career will be better for patients in the end as they will have a doctor that has time to see them, is not “burned out” and working a schedule that is conducive to practicing the highest caliber of medicine. Maintaining a career you love is a laudable goal. Stay in your medical career until your 90s if you can, but have the freedom to make it your perfect practice or career.

Valerie A. Jones is a obstetrician-gynecologist who blogs at OB Doctor Mom.

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