Advice from a “xennial” physician to aspiring physicians

I am considered a “xennial” physician. Not quite a millennial — but also not fitting into the generation of the respected preceptors I had in medical school and residency. I took my MCAT via paper and pencil. My mini boards during my clinical rotations were on paper and pencil. All of my licensing and board exams were computerized.

It was not an option to sit at home and log on to my medical school classroom from the comfort of my living room without ever having to leave. Much of the required material had to be obtained by physically walking into the classroom to pick it up. I knew the walls of the medical school hallways and classrooms well. I knew the faces of my professors and fellow medical students.

I came into medicine at a unique time. Paper charts were being phased out. The birth of computerized physician order entry occurred. I last used a paper order chart in 2014. As a new attending, many of my older physician colleagues could not handle the change. Some left their respected institution or entered early retirement.

I hear many of my colleagues discuss their responses to young people who are contemplating entering medical school. The majority of what I hear is a discouragement to enter our field. Our frustration with how medicine is conducted has led us to taint our own field.

Xennial physicians, perhaps, are the most well-adapted physicians to the great technological and clerical change medicine has faced. And maybe we are the last generation of physicians with an optimistic attitude about being a physician. Because we have a close — yet brief — memory of the old ways. We then had to learn the new ways. And now, the current environment of medicine is what we have mostly known. We have the memory of written exams and hardcopy charts. Because we had to learn to adapt to other technological advances in our lives (i.e., flip phone to smartphone), we were able to easily navigate these changes in medicine.

Do I despise the hours a day it takes to write my electronic physician notes during my workday as a hospitalist? You bet. One of the most important questions I feel I ask as a hospitalist to a patient and their family is: “Do you have any more questions?” I sometimes dread asking that question. It could add another 15 to 20 minutes to that specific patient encounter. But this question gives control to a patient who may feel like they are in a situation where they are out of control. They deserve that opportunity to take control of the conversation and know I am listening rather than speaking. Knowing my clerical work awaits me definitely makes me feel animosity at times toward my computer that is waiting.

Do I get excited to do a peer review with an insurance company? No. But it’s part of the territory. I’ve adjusted. I’ve adapted. It’s really all I’ve ever known. Sometimes the peer reviewer understands my given plight. Others may not. At the end of the day, I know I do my best.

Do I hate the cost of my student loan payments? Oh yes, with a passion. I think of so many ways I could use that money personally, professionally and philanthropically. But I look at it with the attitude that my career is one of the greatest financial investments I ever made. I am personally happy and fulfilled to be able to be a physician.

To me, I am entering the golden age of my professional life. I wanted to be a physician at age 17. I am grateful to be where I am today. I am excited for what tomorrow holds. I am ecstatic to be a part of medicine and have a voice in any changes that may come our way in health care.

We as physicians know the challenges and tribulations that come with our field. We have endured it, and we are almost guaranteed to encounter more in the future.

In this xennial physician’s opinion, we need to celebrate our profession. We need to cherish it. We need to honor the hard work it took each of us to get where we are today. We need to realize the tremendous gift and privilege it is to be able to direct a human being’s most prized possession … their health and well-being. We need to realize that not everyone gets a chance to be a physician. Many come knocking for an opportunity, and only a few are allowed to enter.

If we don’t start upholding and encouraging those behind us to pursue medicine, our field will begin to dwindle. Our voices as physicians in the arena of health care with soon be drowned out by others. And the physician shortage will be exacerbated even more.

I am not discounting the frustrations our field brings to us. But we need to be better about rolling with the punches. We need to show that in the face of change, we can adapt and bring the art of our best practice to medicine.

It is hard to convey to anyone who has never walked in our footsteps what a path to a career in medicine looks like. No one knows — unless you have walked that path. But let’s make an effort to show that our field in the midst of adversity is truly one of the greatest careers one can have. I can think of no other profession that I would want to have. Yes, there are many more careers with less stress, less red tape and more money.

But to me, our field is a calling. We are called to aid the maimed and heal the sick. We see humanity at its worst and at its best. And we get the chance to make a meaningful difference in the life of a human being. Whatever storm we next find ourselves in, let us not forget these important truths about being a physician.

Andrea Lauffer is a hospitalist.

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