"Fighting" burnout is NOT the answer
As I got to my desk today for work, I saw the latest "Medical Economics" journal https://www.medicaleconomics.com/ (February 10, 2020) on my desk, which I regularly read due its poignant subject matters and casual writing style.
The main article was titled Physicians Fight Burnout: Six doctors share their strategies (https://www.medicaleconomics.com/news/physicians-fight-burnout).
I enjoyed the points made by the article and thought it was thought-provoking overall. However, I had two major disagreements with the article
First: fighting burnout is not the answer.
Second: The article is written with the premise that the goal is to keep physicians in clinical medicine.
The article's second sentence, "The result is physicians retiring early, changing careers, or losing their love of medicine at a time when there is already a shortage of primary care physicians." Is it the burnt-out physician's fault that there is such a shortage? This is way beyond the shoulders of a single physician.
Gabe Charbonneau, MD states "I throw down the challenge that all of us need to start to help unravel this problem before we lose more good physicians and drive them out of medicine."
I emphatically, emphatically disagree with this premise that physicians need to stay in clinical medicine. Physicians are needed in many non-clinical roles - chief medical officers and other leadership roles, medical directors for pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, physician inventors.
Heard of Frank Henry Netter, M.D.? He stopped practicing medicine and made a living by drawing medical illustrations. He has immensely made an impact by following his talents and interests.
The second doctor mentioned, Tyree Winters, DO seems to have at least partially left clinical medicine: "Even if I'm not seeing patients, I'm doing things like teaching and attending community events, using my medical degree to educate people to make an impact in their lives." I thought this was awesome. I thought the article would follow up with how many physicians are choosing non-clinical careers to make similar impacts, but it instead turned towards "recognizing burnout" and Dr. Winters' strategy for this.
The article ends with a quote from Lakshman Swamy, MD, MBA: "Burnout is a symptom of an incredibly broken healthcare system. It needs addressing, but the root causes are deep and pervasive."
Who is going to do this "addressing" and "fighting?" To many doctors this probably just feels like another burden, another task to add to their to-do-list.
Fighting burnout is not the answer.
We should stop trying to "keep doctors in clinical medicine."
What should we do instead?
Physicians should be encouraged to contribute in a way that is aligned with their vision, gifts and talents, interests. This may be in clinical medicine. This may be in a non-clinical career. Or maybe it's doing a bit of both.
Each physician should pursue an authentic physician life in which they pursue the best way to make an impact with their education, training, knowledge, talents and gifts, and interests - whether or not this involves seeing patients.