Focusing on the youth to avoid “physician burnout”
I have now been in private practice for 34 years. I am happy to say that I still enjoy coming to work and feel great satisfaction from working with patients. I have observed many colleagues in the process. Some have maintained their enthusiasm, energy, and love of their career. Others have developed “physician burnout.” There has been a great deal of attention devoted to this recently. Numerous articles and lecture series have been dedicated to this. From a societal standpoint, the reason is obvious. Our country needs more physicians. In particular, we need physicians with many years of experience. From an individual standpoint, the reason is even more compelling. All of us have devoted a huge amount of time and energy to becoming physicians. As is the case in so many different careers, physicians typically get better with age. With our experience and knowledge over the years, we can reach a diagnosis more quickly and oftentimes can avoid mistakes that we have witnessed in the past. The main challenge is to keep up with new developments in our fields. This is the obvious advantage of being recently trained.
During one of my more pensive moods, I reflected on what differentiates those who remain enthused about medicine and those who don’t. One particular experience in my own practice stood out. A fourth-year medical student was visiting my office and shadowing me for the day. I have always enjoyed this and found this refreshing and stimulating.
We went into the exam room to see a new patient. This was a 7-year-old boy who had new onset Bell’s palsy. Over 34 years, I have lost count of how many patients I have seen with Bell’s palsy. However, for this medical student it was the first patient he had ever seen with this condition. I observed his enthusiasm about finally seeing something he had only studied previously. I witnessed his eagerness to learn more about it and discuss my past experience with Bell’s palsy. At the end of the day, he thanked me profusely for a stimulating afternoon. As I witnessed this student’s response to seeing his first case of Bell’s palsy, it reminded me of the enthusiasm I had during medical school and postgraduate training. It reminded me of why I became a physician in the first place. It reminded me of how fortunate I am to have a career that stays challenging and fascinating throughout one’s lifetime. I know that in every field of medicine there are practicing physicians who not only have a great deal to teach medical students, residents, and fellows, but would also benefit immensely from a personal standpoint. It is hard to become burned out if you are surrounded by people who are enthusiastic and eager to learn. Clearly, we are looking at a symbiotic relationship. Medical students and residents are hungry to learn from the experience of more seasoned practitioners. Seasoned practitioners benefit immensely from sharing in the enthusiasm and love of medicine displayed by our younger colleagues.
San Antonio now has two medical schools. The University of Texas Health Science Center is welcoming a new Dean, Dr. Hromas. The University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathy is now accepting students for its second class. I encourage practitioners to contact one of these two institutions and let them know if you are interested in working with medical students. I have never regretted time spent teaching and sharing experiences with my younger colleagues.
At the same time that we focus on teaching students and residents, we have to maintain our focus on being in control of our own practice. We have to maintain focus on ensuring that the bureaucratic non-clinical burden on physicians does not overwhelm us. This is why I am constantly encouraging people to become active in organized medicine. One of the many goals of the TMA and AMA is to maintain as much physician control as possible.
For those of you that have had other experiences that renewed your enthusiasm about medicine, I welcome letters to the editor.
Sheldon Gross, MD
Editor’s note: Letters to the Editor are welcome and should be addressed to BCMS Editorial Dept., 4334 N. Loop 1604 W., San Antonio, Texas 78249 or send email to email@example.com.
Sheldon G. Gross, MD, is the 2018 president of the Bexar County Medical Society.