Shifting Priorities

The timeline of modern medicine is marked by a series of major medical and scientific advances as well as social, economic, and professional developments that have caused major paradigm shifts in the practice of medicine. Take for example germ theory.

In the 1870s Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch established the germ theory of disease. According to germ theory, specific diseases are caused by specific organisms. Before this discovery, most doctors believed diseases were noncommunicable and caused by spontaneous generation.

It wasn’t uncommon for doctors to perform autopsies on people who died of infectious diseases and then turn around to care for living patients without washing their hands, not realizing the possibility of transmitting the disease. We can thank germ theory for doctors washing their hands before attending to patients.

There have been many major medical advances and developments throughout the years and unfortunately, 2020 will go down in the history books as a year of major change.

The COVID-19 has impacted the medical profession in far-reaching ways and is poised to cause permanent changes to patient care going forward.

In brief, the pandemic has completely upended the market for physicians transforming what was essentially a seller’s market for physician services to one of a buyer’s market.

Here are some sobering facts based on a recent survey conducted by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins:

  • Physicians are seeing fewer patients. 41% of physicians saw patient volume decreases of 26% or more.
  • Physicians are making less money.
  • They are making major staff reductions.
  • New physicians entering practice may not be able to get their first or second choice of employment opportunities, which was not the case a year ago.
  • More physicians have reached out to physician recruiting firms over the past six months than they’ve had at any time in recent history.

Nobody can predict the healthcare landscape after COVID-19, but even after the pandemic ends, no one will argue that it will have reshaped America’s healthcare system.

Where will the physician fit within this landscape?

Will telemedicine reduce the demand for physicians as hospitals leverage the use of qualified nurses and physician assistants to handle routine consultations?

Many physicians entered medicine because they wanted to make a difference. They wanted to be a part of a noble profession that could make a difference in people’s lives. But with the high cost of medical school and the heavy burdens of student debt, the current financial realities and shifting patient priorities may not allow physicians to do what they love.

At the end of the day, physicians need to put food on their tables too. The future of the medical profession is definitely in flux and nobody can predict how the healthcare landscape will look in a year and beyond.

The only certainty is that 2021 will continue to bring uncertainty. Now is certainly a time for reflection – to consider our place in the new economy.

Will the medical profession still be economically viable? Will physicians be able to care for their patients and still be able to meet their financial obligations?

It’s a question worth exploring and one many of us can’t afford to just “wait and see.”

We, physicians, are a proud bunch but for many, it would be worth exploring other financial avenues and options for not only meeting our basic expenses but for beyond – to never be beholden to external circumstances like the pandemic again.