I came across this interesting article, shared by excellent podcast The Doctor Paradox. Published in the Wall Street Journal online, the article alerts readers to a very real problem for the profession and the people it lives to serve.
Today medicine is just another profession, and doctors have become like everybody else: insecure, discontented and anxious about the future. In surveys, a majority of doctors express diminished enthusiasm for medicine and say they would discourage a friend or family member from entering the profession. - Wall Street Journal
The article very nicely pinpoints several issues that are perpetuating this disillusionment within the profession. A feeling of being under-valued by society and our governing bodies or employers, a never ending stream of bureaucracy and paperwork linked to that and most worryingly, impacts on patient care.
Despite concerns about income, autonomy and professional satisfaction being a part of this problem, doctors are by and large, quite altruistic people. We hate seeing our patients short changed by an increasingly burdened health care system. And we hate that the burdens being forced upon us are passed along to patients. For example, the WSJ article speaks about administrative tasks directly diminishing patient contact time. In Australia, we have concerns over government funding of health care that will lead to a passing on of costs to vulnerable patients. Our profession exists to serve people. And it is a service we glean much satisfaction from.
That being said, it is time to take this problem seriously. These days, we are trying to make sure everyone feels valued but doctors seem to be getting a slightly different message. The implications for our society as a whole are great if this intense job dissatisfaction continues.
The profession obviously needs to look inwards at itself to see what it is doing to aid such disillusionment. Factors in the workplace such as bullying and discrimination, lack of flexible training options or high degrees of mental stress will not only tarnish our existing doctors but word will get out and we will lose the best and brightest to come other profession. Despite what many of my senior colleagues have said about 'quitters' over the years, this is not weeding out the weak. This is our great loss and society's great loss.
During tough times in our lives, my fellow surgeons often turn to surgical training as a yardstick. 'If you made it through surgical training, you can make it through this'. And 'this' can take many forms; relationship breakdowns, deaths, financial troubles and so on. Becoming a surgeon should not be used as the yardstick by which we measure all of life's problems.
As a profession we also need to take charge of our destiny. Take a look at the great efforts by the doctors of the NHS in the junior doctor dispute. They came together as one profession and said that they were no longer going to be taken for granted and most certainly, they were not going to put their patients at risk for the sake of politics. Health systems the world over have a lot to learn from this dispute.
Perhaps the most serious downside, however, is that unhappy doctors make for unhappy patients. Patients today are increasingly disenchanted with a medical system that is often indifferent to their needs. - Wall Street Journal
We are altruistic and we do care about our patients. We also care about ourselves and our own families and the extraordinary sacrifices we have made for our profession and our patients. The fact that we are not alarmed as a society by the breaking of our health care workers is a sad indictment on our approach to modern life.
Our medical students and young doctors need to be mentored authentically to demonstrate professionalism but also learn about career planning and self-care. We should examine our training processes to ensure that we are doing everything we can to retain people even if that means moving away from trying to break our trainees. And lastly, the profession needs to bring our goals together and ensure that we have a strong hand in shaping a system that works for patients and doctors alike.
Our system is approaching breaking point and the dedicated health care workers from all fields who prop it up won't be able to for too much longer. So now is the time for action to sustain our health care system into a long and caring future.