Celebrating National Doctors' Day - Highlighting Challenges That Physicians Face

By: Varun Verma, MD

Published: Mar 30, 2023

📂 Physician Perspectives

Written for:

✅ Residents and Fellows

✅ Early Career Physicians

✅ Mid Career Physicians

✅ Established Professionals

In honor of National Doctors' Day, we remember the incredible work that physicians do each day and they challenges they face. Healthcare is much more than providing preventative care, accurate diagnosis and treating illnesses - it is about humans consciously deciding that they will dedicate their lives to the service of others. Physicians spend more than a decade in training so they can be best equipped to play a vital role in their communities. From the entire Andwise team – we would like to thank you for your commitment to your patients.

With over a million active physicians, there continues to be a great interest in the field as evidenced by the fact that there is intense competition for medical school and residency positions. However, the physician profession faces many serious challenges like burnout, physician suicide, and what seems like mass departures from the workforce due to an unfavorable practice landscape. Even amidst these challenges, physicians remain steadfast and committed to their patients. Their resiliency in the face of adversity is astounding. 

Rather than just celebrate physicians today, we wanted to bring some of the challenges they face to the forefront to help raise awareness and initiate dialogue.

Burnout

One of my colleagues once told me he was burned out from talking about burnout. He’s not wrong - the buzzword is everywhere. Burnout is often defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It is a prevalent issue among physicians and other healthcare professionals, with studies showing that up to 50% of physicians are experiencing burnout at any given time. The long hours, high workload, and administrative burdens in the healthcare system can take a toll on physicians' well-being, leading to burnout. It’s clearly not a lack of resilience, but a lack of autonomy - COVID-19 is not the cause, it only accelerated the problem.

Despite organizations like the AMA, our state medical societies, our specialty organizations - no one seems to have the answer – physicians continue to suffer.

Physician Suicide

A terrible issue hidden in plain sight is physician suicide. It is estimated that 300 to 400 physicians die from suicide each year, which is more than double the rate of the general population. This is a concerning trend that needs more attention and support, and yet no one seems to have any good answers. Physicians clearly aren’t the only profession that deals with traumatic situations at work or issues like depression and suicidality; police officers, firefighters, EMS, other first responders, nurses, and members of the US Military whose lives are threatened all face massive pressure that stems from their jobs. It seems that many physicians feel we can’t get help because of the fear that mental health challenges may impact our licensure or credentialing at future jobs, and hence our livelihood.

It is a truly tragic situation that the healers can’t get help themselves that they need.

Middlemen Harming Our Patients

Many physicians won’t openly talk about challenges they face on a daily basis because they fear retaliation or being blacklisted from potential employers. In our day-to-day work physicians try to focus on the patient in front of us and doing what we can to help those around us in a broken healthcare system. We work in the reality that our healthcare system is high cost but not the highest quality in the world - scoring poorly on measures like life expectancy, preventable hospital admissions and maternal mortality. As the frontline healthcare workers, many of us bear the brunt of the anger and dissatisfaction from patients that is likely due to for-profit insurance companies who deny care, pharmaceutical companies with record profits that continue to make life-saving drugs unaffordable, and even healthcare systems that sometimes seem more interested in real estate expansion than in truly helping communities.

While many of us are concerned about trends in physicians leaving the field, middlemen seem to be proliferating in American healthcare.

The Impact of an Unfavorable Practice Landscape

The healthcare industry is obviously constantly evolving, and physicians must keep up with new developments and regulations. However, the current practice landscape presents challenges for physicians that will affect patient care. With the rise of insurance restrictions, decreasing insurance reimbursements, challenges with prior authorizations and denials of care, high medical school debt, and increasing administrative tasks, many physicians feel disheartened and overwhelmed. This results in a decrease in job satisfaction, and physicians seeking non-clinical opportunities to escape the vicious cycle of being cogs in the healthcare industrial complex.

Perceived Indifference of Employers

In private Facebook groups and blog posts Physicians don’t hide their disbelief that employers have seemingly become more indifferent to their challenges. Many of us have noticed that the thanks we often get is a company-wide email, a cold slice of pizza, a donut/cookie. Some employers have been more generous and provided swag like heated/smart coffee mugs, wireless chargers, jackets. All of this stuff is whatever it is - tokens on one day of the year. Many of us would argue that the best way to show appreciation in the work place would be safe staffing ratios, work flexibility that suits the needs of humans, and a fair pay check that actually kept up with inflation without adding on dozens of unpaid tasks to our roles each year.

As we celebrate National Doctors' Day, let us not only honor the selflessness and dedication of physicians but also recognize the serious challenges that they face. At Andwise our mission is to support physicians thrive, because without them we will have no healthcare system.

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