The practice of medicine has been a hallowed one since time immemorial, attracting the noblest and brightest that society has to offer. That is changing, however, as the rigors of a more challenging practicing environment is degrading the appeal of clinical professions. According to a 2013 Deloitte Survey of more than 20,000 physicians, the majority of practicing clinicians are considering early retirement, transitioning to a non-clinical specialty, or leaving the medical profession entirely.
Almost 62 percent of respondents said early retirement was likely in the next one to three years, while almost 75 percent believed that the brightest candidates will not choose a career in medicine.
This widespread dissatisfaction goes hand in hand with a common occurrence in the medical profession—burnout. A study in the Archives of Internal medicine found that doctors experience burnout at higher rates than other professionals, leading to mental health problems and a suicide rate that is two or four times greater than the rest of the professional world. The stresses leading to physician burnout are only expected to increase as more U.S. residents take advantage of the Affordable Care Act to secure health insurance.
While the challenges of practicing medicine are not likely to lessen soon, there are some effective ways of mitigating the toll it takes on life. Consider the following strategies:
Self-Monitoring—Most physicians are willing to sacrifice their own wellbeing for that of their patients, but the continued burden of long hours can diminish the quality of patient care. It should be a priority for doctors to monitor their own physical and emotional health so that they can take a short break or vacation when energy levels are depleted.
Stress Management—Stress is often overwhelming in the medical profession, so utilizing common coping methods may help. These include:
Scheduling Time with Family—Another sacrifice that is far too common in medicine is to ignore loved ones which can contribute to social isolation, a major contributing factor for burnout. Scheduling meals and meaningful time with friends and family can renew enthusiasm for work.
Physical Activity—It is ironic that physicians forego regular exercise despite their profound awareness of its importance to emotional and physical wellbeing. A JAMA Internal Medicine study found that only 56 percent of burned out physicians exercised two or more times weekly, while 68 percent of non-burned out physicians engaged in the this minimum level of activity.
Personally Engage Patients—One of the major challenges of medicine today is the depersonalization of patients in many high volume specialties like Emergency Medicine and Internal Medicine. Making an effort to learn about patients or conversing with families may appear to be a waste of time, but they can greatly enhance the patient-caregiver interaction and energize doctors.
Counseling—It is vital that physicians relinquish some of the emotional and psychological burdens of practicing medicine. Counseling may take the form of formal psychotherapy, but it may also include discussing issues with friends, associates or mentors.
Developing Workplace Resources—Hospitals and healthcare organizations value physicians and their contributions, so frankly requesting more stress management services or changes to the clinical setting can be quite constructive. More equitably balancing administrative duties with patient hours can significantly improve the quality of your work day.
There is no panacea for all of the challenges that plague the medical profession, but with determination and a few positive habits, physicians can vastly improve their professional situation and continue to serve in this noble profession.
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