In the past week alone, I have heard the following comments from pediatricians on the front lines: “I’ve been practicing for 21 years, and I’ve never seen things this bad”; “I have been called uncaring because my patient had to wait an hour. But I couldn’t tell my patient that I was running behind because of a suicidal patient”; “I’m considering leaving clinical medicine because it seems like there is no end in sight.”
General pediatrics is a unique field, full of social promise and connection. As pediatricians, we get to share in the whole parenting journey, from early moments of exhilaration and exhaustion to later moments of pride as our patients head off to college, as well as all the intensity in between. Pediatrics can also be tragic, as we help families navigate chronic illnesses, malignancies, and mental health challenges. But even in those moments, the connections with our patients and their families make it rewarding, and most pediatricians find their work fulfilling despite generally poor compensation. Compared to other medical specialties, pediatricians historically have been less prone to burnout.
This is why these recent statements are so striking. The pressures from a broken system are increasingly leading great clinicians to consider alternative careers. Never have the heartbreaking realities of this profession been more clear than this past year. We have seen unprecedented mental health and academic challenges in our patients, and have struggled to provide the resources and care that they and their parents deserve. More recently, pediatric practices are faced with surging demands: phone calls from anxious and frustrated parents, demands for COVID testing from schools, and visits for catch-up vaccinations and continued mental health struggles. Coupled with the politicization of measures designed to keep us and our children safe, and rhetoric around why COVID is not worth considering a serious illness in our patients, pediatricians are exhausted and demoralized.
As we head into winter, the onslaught seems never-ending. We simply cannot keep up.
Pediatrics is a field of experience. Many of the clinical pearls I have learned have come from physician mentors who have been practicing for years. As a parent and a pediatrician, hearing about so many clinicians leaving clinical medicine frightens me. Many of them should be the mentors of the next generation, and their loss will impact not just today’s children but also those of the future.
This is the moment to remember that pediatricians are people with families who have chosen to dedicate their lives to your children. They are doing their best to accommodate needs and sometimes have to triage based on who needs them the most at that moment. Right now, every office has long wait times for phone calls and appointments. Pediatricians are working tirelessly to provide high-quality care. Please, if you are a parent, give them some grace. If you have to wait, recognize that perhaps the reason is because your child is not the one in most need at that moment. Have your children make cards and write letters. As a community, we need to remind our pediatricians why they chose this field and that we appreciate their care and dedication.
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