The pandemic shined a bright spotlight on physician burnout, but the truth is physician burnout was a problem long before COVID-19 hit our shores.
Looking back on my medical training and career, the gears of burnout started churning even before my full-time medical career began. It started with all-nighters in med school, reading thick medical books, doing clinical rotations, and studying for finals and board exams. Even before graduating and putting in 80-hour weeks during residency, I was already spending 80-90 hours a week in my medical training. I slept poorly, ate sparingly, and was stressed – even before starting my first full-time job.
When you hear statistics like 1 in 15 physicians contemplating suicide, there should be cause for concern. It’s no secret that physician burnout and suicide are growing public health concerns. Studies consistently show that physicians are more likely than non-physicians to experience work-related stressors. And it’s not just the long hours taking their toll on physicians. Physicians are being stretched from all angles.
Part of the problem with physician burnout is the culture. Even before stepping foot on the medical school campus, we were already indoctrinated about the arduous life of a physician. Physicians are expected to work hard, keep our heads down, and not complain or speak up regardless of how we feel. The prevailing attitude is we all knew what we were getting into.
I’ve read and seen proposals for addressing physician burnout – mainly focusing on striking a healthy work-life balance – but none address the core problem. Suggestions for lifestyle changes include relaxation techniques, daily self-care routines, exercise, adopting a balanced diet and sleep schedule, greater access to child care, hobbies to enrich free time, and ways to increase efficiency and maximize productivity. These tips don’t address the core causes of physician burnout – mainly lack control and energy deficiency.
In terms of control/autonomy, physicians are increasingly feeling powerless to self-govern to exercise professional judgment and care in treating patients.
We, as physicians, now endure a profound lack of control over our time and patient care. How much time we spend with a patient, what is discussed, our decision-making process, and how a patient encounter is documented are all frequently mandated by insurance companies, hospital administration, and policy. Kristen Fuller, M.D., “The Reality of Physician Burnout,” Psychology Today (June 17, 2022).
In terms of energy deficiency, physicians are constantly in a low energy state. Stresses at work and home are constantly draining physician energy without any meaningful replenishment of those energy reserves.
The burnout epidemic will not go away until physicians buy back control over their time and find meaningful ways to replenish their energy reserves. I know you have bills to pay, and your income is volume-driven. The more time you spend at work, the more patients you can see, the more you can bill, and the more money you make. And with student loans and current financial obligations like a mortgage and car payments. It’s hard to think about cutting back on time at work.
Even if a physician resolves to cut back on time at work, it’s hard to leave work at the office in our connected society. The advent of connected devices like smartphones and tablets combined with extended on-call schedules and easily accessible electronic medical records means a physician’s work day never ends. It’s a vicious cycle, but it can be done by someone who has broken that cycle. A true work-life balance can be struck with contentment at work and home.
I understand many physicians may be reluctant to cut back on time at work, but I’m not asking you to cut back time at work; I’m suggesting that you buy it back so you can afford to take back more time for yourself and your family.
Physician Health Begins With Financial Health.
Financial independence is the ability to walk away from your job and still meet your financial obligations. Despite the stresses, most physicians love what they do and would never walk away from their careers. But what if you had the power to walk away if you had to? What if you didn’t have to stress over the time you spent at the clinic or hospital because you have bills to pay? Is that peace of mind worth pursuing?
How would you support yourself if you could no longer work or if you decided just to walk away one day?
Unless you find ways to generate a passive income (income streams separate from your job), you will always be trading time for money. The sooner you can generate multiple streams of passive income, the quicker you can buy back your time and be in a position to work because you want to work and not because you have to.
For generating passive income, have you considered cash-flowing private investments?
Cash-flowing private investments are uncorrelated to the broader markets, thereby protecting your passive income streams from market downturns. You’re trying to step away from one source of stress.a No need to tie your passive income streams to another source of stress – the broader economy. Cash-flowing private investments backed by tangible assets or a tangible business are not only ideal for generating passive streams of income but also for shielding your portfolio and income from downturns and inflation.
Why not explore new ventures like investing in private companies or other cash-flowing opportunities? The root causes of physician burnout are control and time.
Why not buy back your time and pursue your passions? Instead of having your schedule dictate you, why not dictate your schedule to do what you want to do and not what you have to do?
Why not pursue new entrepreneurial ventures to open up new personal adventures?