7 Ways Physicians Can Reignite Their Passion for Medicine

Physicians typically enter the medical profession to make a difference in people’s lives. They set out in their first physician job with excitement, great expectations and the best of intentions.

Then reality sets in and they are forced to:

  • Deal with insurance companies and regulatory agencies
  • Interact with electronic medical records
  • Juggle difficult cases, patients and schedules
  • Manage the hassles of running a business – or the tensions that come from an employment situation

These factors can often lead to physician burnout or decreased satisfaction with the practice of medicine.

Yet physicians can reignite that original passion, for their sake and for their patients.

Physician burnout has been associated with worse outcomes and patient safety issues. Three-quarters of physicians responding to the 2016 Survey of America’s Physicians reported sometimes, often or always having feelings of professional burnout. The survey was conducted by AMN Healthcare on behalf of The Physicians Foundation.

Tom Davis MD FAAFO, principal of Tom Davis Consulting in St Louis, said the change to a business-like model of healthcare, with clinicians being treated like assembly-line workers, contributes to burnout. He indicated that physicians have three options: learn to adjust, change positions or quit clinical medicine.

“You are never without an option,” said Catherine Hambley, PhD, owner of LeapFrog Consulting in California. “You identify what you want, change the stressor or how you are responding to it.”

MAKE a career change with AMN Healthcare, the nation’s leader in physician recruitment.

7 tips to rekindle your love of medicine

1. Figure out what makes you happy

Hambley recommended focusing on what aspects of the practice of medicine bring satisfaction. That might be making a difficult diagnosis or a rewarding patient experience.

“We have a negativity bias,” Hambley said. “[Physicians should] build a habit of anticipating the positive and a habit of being grateful. There is research: people who are more grateful are more resilient to stress.”

Simply looking for what one enjoys and brings satisfaction sets up a positive expectation, she explained. For some people, making connections is important and will lead toward the physician having a more positive day.

2. Stay in the present

Self-care, mindfulness, emotional awareness and self-reflection are important aspects of physician well-being, according to The Collaborative for Healing and Renewal in Medicine, as noted in the Charter on Physician Well-being, published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Medical Association(JAMA).

“Research shows people who spend more time in direct experience—mindfulness—are happier than people who spend more time in a default mode of thinking about the past and future,” Hambley said.  

3. Change your stress response

Physicians need to figure out what feeds their soul, and what causes stress.

“You cannot change something unless you are aware of it,” Hambley said.

A physician may not be able to avoid stress associated with practicing medicine, but he or she can change how they respond to it, Hambley said. “Forming a new way of thinking can happen at any age.”

4. Learn to say “No”

Physicians might be able to limit their commitments at work by learning to say “no.”  At least some of the time.

Davis offered three recommendations:

  • Don't try to take care of too many patients
  • Never work at home
  • Find joy outside of the office or other practice setting

5. Stay healthy

“Maintaining your own health and well-being are essential for remaining passionate about your work as a physician,” said Neda Ratanawongsa, MD, MPH, associate chief health informatics officer for ambulatory services, San Francisco Health Network, and associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine.

The Collaborative for Healing and Renewal in Medicine also cites the importance of healthy choices, including eating nutritious and healthy foods and exercising.

6. Identify intrinsic motivations

Physician motivation can vary depending on one’s career stage, according to a paper by Ratanawongsa and colleagues. Extrinsic factors, such as salary or working conditions, do not lead to long-term satisfaction.

“Career resilience requires that physicians reflect on and define the sources of their own intrinsic motivation,” the authors wrote. Intrinsic factors include self-expression, self-efficacy and altruism

7. Consider alternatives

If a physician’s current position cannot be modified to overcome dissatisfaction, it may be time to find a different physician job. The most recent Survey of America’s Physicians found that 48 percent of physicians had plans to reduce their hours, retire, take a nonclinical job, or take other steps to change their current situation within the next one to three years.

“Find clinical positions that are a better fit,” Davis said. “It may mean less money, so reduce your spending and pay down your debt. Less debt equals more choice and freedom.”

Other alternatives worth considering, according to Davis, include switching to consulting, expert witnessing or other nonclinical work.

Kristy Ingebo, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, spends nine months of the year providing remote consults and recommends other physicians try telemedicine.

“You’re able to relax and focus on providing the best care without distraction,” Ingebo said.

More and more physicians are becoming health system employees and giving up private practice and the financial uncertainty and reimbursement and regulatory burdens for a “safe, efficient place to treat their patients” according to a recent AMN Healthcare white paper.

“People feel locked in, but they lock themselves in,” Hambley said. Everyone has options.

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