Many doctors quit the medical profession each year, despite spending four years in medical school and several years in residency programs. 1 in 5 physicians leaves their current practice within two years.
Medicine is a noble profession. It requires a great deal of effort to earn the title of a doctor, yet doctors give up on their hard work by leaving medicine. It takes a variety of crucial reasons for someone to take such a big step.
We are all aware of the fascinating aspects of a physician’s life, but their struggles are often overlooked. Since doctors aren’t superhumans, the following reasons can make it challenging for them to continue their practice.
Common Reasons for Leaving Medicine
Work Stress and Long Working Hours
Whether it is studying during medical school or pursuing a medical role, medicine requires you to dedicate your time to it. Doctors have intense work schedules that force them to spend most of their time with patients and staff.
According to Statista, 65% of primary care physicians worked 45 or more hours per week in the United States in 2019. A few physicians work for 80 hours or more, as well. Long working hours can induce stress and make doctors lose interest in their jobs.
Even though doctors already had difficult working hours before the pandemic, COVID-19 further increased this load. It resulted in doctors feeling burned out due to stress and an endless workload.
In a recent Mayo Clinic study to discover the impact of the pandemic on US healthcare workers, the majority of doctors shared that they intended to reduce their workload, while 1 in 5 doctors wanted to leave their practice altogether.
The average US-based doctor earns between $260,000 to $368,000 annually. Private doctors often earn more money than salaried doctors, but the pay varies based on different specialties.
Most physicians feel they are paid too little for their time and commitment to their field. Physicians spend years in medical school and don’t get a job until they are 30. Some students who took out student loans to pay for medical school could have to live paycheck to paycheck until the debts are paid off.
Besides student debts, physicians have to pay $5,000 to $7,500 for malpractice insurance a year. People who graduate from renowned business schools earn the same salary as physicians, despite spending less time and money on their education.
It makes physicians believe that they are being paid an insufficient income for the amount of workload and pressure they are under.
Poor Work-Life Balance
With the numerous patients, labs, and referrals, medical positions can easily interfere with anyone’s personal life. Apart from the long working hours, doctors also have 24/7 and weekend calls from time to time. You hardly ever have time to engage in hobbies or socialize with loved ones.
Although doctors in high-paying specialties like cardiology make more money than others, they also have demanding and stressful lifestyles. Poor work-life balance is among the reasons for burnout, which leads to depression and conflicts in personal relationships. It is difficult for doctors, especially women, to combine parenthood and work.
In Medscape’s 2020 report of Women Physicians: The Issues They Care About, work-life balance was the most important issue for women. Many physicians who left their practice have shared that careers outside medicine allow flexible working and opportunities to take time off for yourself.
Physical and Mental Illnesses
The requirements of working as a medical professional can cause physical and mental exhaustion. Like their patients, physicians have to deal with various health problems. Physicians are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases due to the demanding nature of the medical profession.
Physicians mainly work in hospitals, so they can be exposed to various harmful chemicals, radiation, and pathogens. Accidental injuries from needles or neck pain from long hours are common among surgeons. These factors may influence how well doctors perform in their chosen specialties.
On the other hand, physicians are also at risk of developing mental illnesses. A study conducted in the UK stated that 80% of doctors practiced with mental health problems between 2008 and 2017. Physicians are responsible for their patient’s well-being, which can lead to mental disorders like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mental illnesses are often seen as a sign of weakness in the field of medical professionals. Some doctors fear their mental health problems might even revoke their license to practice in some states in the United States. As a result, they prefer leaving medicine for the sake of their health.
Regulations in the Medical System
The administrative regulations and government policies can be frustrating for doctors. The complex medical system and unsupportive work culture result in inefficiency in the healthcare industry. Physicians have complained for years that the medical system is moving its focus away from high-quality patient care toward unnecessary restrictions.
Patients and physicians lose valuable time when doctors are required to provide extra paperwork and justifications for services and payments. The doctor-patient relationship can get affected by the expensive and complicated healthcare system.
The doctor-patient relationship attracts the majority of doctors to the field of medicine. However, their purpose loses its meaning due to these regulations.
Lack of Certainty About the Future
From medical school admissions to matching into your desired specialty, medicine is a competitive field from the beginning. Most students figure out their chosen specialties in medical school, but they have to settle for something else because of competitive match rates.
It is more than likely that they don’t enjoy their new specialty and develop negative feelings about their work. Moreover, the job market in medicine is unpredictable because it depends on healthcare reimbursement policies. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians and surgeons have a job outlook of 3%, which is slower than average for all occupations.
Even if you are matched into your chosen specialty, managing the workload as a doctor could be challenging for you. Therefore, some doctors leave the medical profession because they find it difficult to deal with the uncertain job prospects in medicine.
Can Physicians Overcome These Problems?
It is possible to prevent doctors from transitioning to non-clinical jobs by improving the working conditions in the medical field. Employers are looking for people with medical backgrounds since working in medicine trains you to be disciplined, work in challenging environments, and interact with people from diverse backgrounds.
However, the direct patient relationship is an irreplaceable part of a doctor’s life. Most non-clinical jobs require you to work with technology, while medicine allows you to serve humanity. Therefore, leaving medicine can be one of the hardest choices for doctors.
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Born and raised in the UK, Will went into medicine late (31) after a career in journalism. He’s into football (soccer), learned Spanish after 5 years in Spain, and has had his work published all over the web. Read more.