There’s good news and bad news coming out of the latest Merritt Hawkins’ survey of medical residents in their final year of training. The good news for resident physicians is that hospitals and health systems are recruiting and hiring. In fact, these newly minted doctors who are about to enter the workforce are literally being overwhelmed with opportunities. That is especially true for physicians entering primary care, but it cuts across the specialties as well. There just aren’t enough doctors to fill all of the open positions. However, there is also some bad new in the survey not only for these young physicians but for all of us who will depend on them for our future care.
It’s no secret that there are a lot of grumpy doctors in practice today. Medicine is going through a huge transformation. The burden of practicing medicine in a system that is increasingly bureaucratic where physicians often spend more time on administrative functions than patient care has been taking its toll on medical professionals for some time. Add to that decreasing reimbursements and massive pressures to see more patients in less time, and one can understand why some physicians are bailing from the profession or retiring early if they have the wherewithal to do so. But these are usually docs who are just burned out after many years of practice, not docs entering the profession who certainly should have selected their calling based on they way things are working now versus the way things used to be.
I guess that’s why I was so concerned when I read in the Merritt Hawkins’ survey that fully 25 percent of physicians in their final year of residency training said they would select another career if they had their education to do over again. That’s one in four physicians who are starting their careers feeling that they may have made a big mistake. This after investing in an undergraduate degree (and sometimes a post graduate degree), spending four years in medical school, and three to six or more years in residency and fellowship. Imagine going through all of that and feeling you’d made a terrible mistake!
It’s understandable why many physicians in residency might be a little down on their chosen profession. They’ve been low men and women on the totem pole working often ridiculously long hours for relatively low pay. They carry lots of responsibility with very little control. Many have had to delay getting married, starting a family, purchasing a home or buying much of anything else for that matter. They’ve watched their high school and college friends move on in life with many of them already secure in successful careers. Meanwhile, these young medical professionals, often burdened with huge debt from years of education, are just now beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. And even that tunnel may be pretty long before their ship finally, if ever, comes to port. In fact, for doctors in primary care I’m not sure the economics ever turn positive if you consider the cost of education, years of lost earning potential, and all the hard work that if put into almost any other career might have a better payoff.
So what’s the big deal if we now have not just disillusioned doctors who are older but so many young ones too. The big deal is that these young physicians who are just now entering the profession are our future. They will be taking care of us and our family members. Our lives will literally be in their hands. Would you want to trust your life to a disillusioned, unhappy, and possibly even depressed physician? I know I wouldn’t.
I’m hopeful that technology will eventually ease some of the burden we are putting on physicians. Technology certainly holds the promise of streamlining clinical workflow, communication and collaboration, providing advanced decision support and analytics, reducing medical errors, and making it possible to care for patients from almost anywhere. Having said that, I am also fully aware that some of today’s technology is only adding to the burden. Technology needs to work for the clinician, not the other way around.
My company is obsessed with finding ways to improve life, work and the balance between the two. And for those young medical professionals who are a little bummed right now, I’d say never forget that your chosen profession has always been a noble one and still is today. The satisfaction you will get from care and cure is greater than anything money can buy. And for those of us who will depend on these medical professionals in our time of need, I just ask that you remember to say “thank you” to the young men and women who’ve given up so much to answer this noble calling.
Bill Crounse, MD Senior Director, Worldwide Health Microsoft