The number of physicians experiencing burnout in my specialty is growing. But, gratefully, I am not one of the victims. This is pertinent only because a new 2017 report by Medscape Lifestyle reveals that the burnout rate for emergency medicine (EM) doctors like me is nearly 60 percent, up 10 points since 2013, the first year the report was issued.
Just lucky? Is that why I’m not included in the statistics?
No. In the past half-decade I have transitioned into a different type of lifestyle that gives me more time with my family, fewer clinical hours, and has significantly improved my net worth.
This is not a boast. After reading a blog post by Troy Parks of AMA Wire about the Medscape Lifestyle report, I was appalled by how much the health of doctors has deteriorated. I was grateful and relieved that early in my career I saw a very sad future, and therefore began to rethink my career path.
The report surveyed more than 14,000 physicians in 27 specialties. The participants were asked to rate burnout on a scale of 1 to 7, the higher ranking an indication that the doctor was considering leaving the medical field. Every specialty but one marked 4 or higher.
That should be scary news for doctors and their families, as well as patients. If caregivers are burning out, what does that say about the quality of care in our emergency rooms? Everyone is at risk.
According to Parks, the Medscape Lifestyle report cites four main reasons for the burnout, and I quote:
- Too many bureaucratic tasks
- Too many hours at work
- Feeling like a cog in the wheel
- Increased computerization of practice
Researchers say burnout is a systemic problem, and I agree. But that doesn’t give me much hope that changes can be made quickly.
In my opinion, we need to rethink how we train new doctors before they ever make it into the profession. And then, yes, we must improve conditions for medical professions who are dedicated to helping people, not fulfilling bureaucratic tasks.
Pragmatic, Personal Solutions
If institutions will be slow in making improvements, that doesn’t mean doctors can’t start making personal decisions that will improve their lives.
After joining a medical group in Texas, I soon realized I could not survive thirty to forty years in the profession. Fortunately, I’d developed a passion for real estate which was fulfilled when my wife Micaela and I decided to buy and manage a small portfolio of single-family homes. Eventually, we sold those properties and expanded our horizons with multifamily complexes.
My new book The Passive Income Physician, to be published this spring, teaches other doctors how and why they should consider the same path. By expanding net worth, I could leave the medical group without entirely abandoning medicine. I now manage a network of hospitals in the Dallas area.
My point is simple: Money matters. Money is part of the solution. Doctors cannot wait for a systemic overhaul to cure their burnout. When you know you have enough money to retire—even before you want to retire—you become a different person. A better, more relaxed person. A better doctor.
Don’t Quit, Cut back
Most doctors don’t want to quit their profession. They love the work. They want to make a difference by making a contribution to their communities.
Then they turn the corner at 60 and realize retirement isn’t on the horizon because they didn’t take good care of their money. So what do they do? Double up on their emergency room hours and essentially work themselves to death. Burnout is a precursor to drug abuse and alcoholism. There is no happy ending.
But if physicians make a change and begin using their high annual incomes in new ways, they literally buy time. They no longer have to push through 70-hour work weeks, in desperate need of rest and relaxation.
Instead, their retirement funds, which have generously expanded thanks to passive income and legal taxation benefits, will allow then to cut back on their clinical hours and have a life.
Are Lower Stats an Improvement or a Career Crisis?
Internal medicine has fallen from the top of the Medscape Lifestyle burnout list. But that does not necessarily mean conditions have improved for that group.
An online comment responding to the 2017 report insisted that internists are not “happier.” According to “wfheise” it is more likely that doctors “have done what I have done—they upped and quit! There are no organizations that are doing a thing to truly help with burnout.”
All the more reasons for doctors to make some personal changes that will help them avoid a career crisis and live better lives.
Give me a shout. I can share how I made changes without having to leave the medical profession—not yet, anyway.