A few months ago, in an interview with Pamela Wible, M.D., we wrote about why physicians are dying by suicide. We tried to understand why physicians are so unhappy in today’s healthcare environment that some are retiring early, some are leaving the medical field, and some are even choosing to end their lives.
Today, let’s take a look at a few things that we know contribute to making a physician happy and see what can be done to turn this around.
What Makes a Physician Happy?
More Work-Life Balance
According to the 2014 Work/Life Profiles of Today’s Physician released by the American Medical Association, “nearly one-quarter of physicians work between 61 and 80 hours per week”. Furthermore, according to a 2011 research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine, doctors who work more hours per week tend to have relatively lower job satisfaction, and vice versa. Employers can help by reducing each physician’s workload. Private physicians can help themselves by protecting their time off to achieve a better work-life balance.
Healthcare providers, especially in acute situations, have very stressful jobs. They have huge responsibilities, in a very fast-paced environment. They routinely suffer from lack of rest. Stress inhibits efficiency, causes health problems and leads to physician burnout. Administrators can help by reducing the workload and making improvements to workflows. Private practice physicians can help themselves by creating reasonable work conditions for themselves, getting enough rest and seeking professional support when needed.
According to a report published in the Annals of Family Medicine “a higher level of clinical support staff per physician and improved communication, can result in better functioning teams, which will improve professional satisfaction, and bring greater joy in practice”. Clinics and private practices alike can take advantage of this by shifting from a physician-centric model of work to a shared-care model, where some of the responsibilities are given to members of the support staff.
In a Cejka Search and Physician Wellness Services‘ Organizational Culture Survey, physicians gave respectful communication an average score of 8.6 out of 10 in importance to their overall satisfaction. Healthcare organizations can improve communication by asking for physician input and allowing physicians to contribute to decision making. Private practices can make better communication a priority by hiring great communicators and offering training where needed.
When things go wrong, it can feel quite lonely for the healthcare provider. In fact, another very high-ranking physician satisfaction marker in the Cejka survey was: “supportive management regarding errors and mistakes”. In times of trouble, healthcare organization management should be extremely supportive towards their physicians. Private practice physicians can also get support from peer support groups as well as from organizations like the Physician Litigation Stress Resource Center.
“Patient-centered care” ranks pretty high on most physicians’ wish list. According to James Rickert patient-centered care involves “[…] improving the quality of the doctor-patient relationship, while at the same time decreasing the utilization of diagnostic testing, prescriptions, hospitalizations, and referrals.” Healthcare employers can take note of this demand by implementing more patient-centered care systems. Physicians interested in patient-centered care can seek or open patient-centered practices.
More Time with Patients
Helping patients is the main reason why most physicians choose to go into medicine. So it stands to reason that the more time they spend treating patients, the higher their job satisfaction. Clinic administrators can help by removing as much bureaucracy and paperwork from physicians as possible. Private practice physicians can help themselves by reducing partnerships with insurance plans that severely limit time spent with patients.
Helping people with their problems is draining enough without the added stress of financial worry. Today’s physicians are so squeezed by student loans and overhead that many have a hard time making ends meet. Although money doesn’t always buy happiness, the peace of mind offered by a higher income can certainly contribute to making a physician happy. Physicians can help themselves by looking for employers that pay higher salaries, or by focusing on creating practices with very low overhead.
Physicians who work with efficient and well-trained medical and administrative staff have fewer hassles and are generally more satisfied. Therefore, clinics and hospitals should put as much effort as possible into hiring and training great support staff. For the private practice, it is imperative to hire a fantastic office manager, and then team up with a great staffing agency in order to find and keep the best talent.
Salaried physicians feel better when they can contribute to some of the decisions in the workplace. Clinics can help by giving doctors more freedom setting their own schedules, deciding when to take time off, and deciding how many patients to accept. However, for some physicians, even this freedom may not enough, and they may be happier in a private practice.
As in all industries, sometimes finding the right situation can make a huge difference in work satisfaction. For the struggling healthcare provider, this means doing a bit of soul-searching and taking inventory of what really matters. It’s a worthy task that may go a long way towards making the physician happy.