You may be in a multispecialty group, a small private practice, a large HMO, or an academic position. While the settings can be different, many of the obstacles and opportunities for a group of physicians are invariably the same. Most physicians want the same things, regardless of specialty or years in practice. So, how do physicians become empowered and learn to love their place of work?
Several key themes seem to correlate with professional happiness. Physicians want a fulfilling career that focuses on practicing medicine and not on the minutiae of endless data entry. Physicians also want a career that allows for life outside of work without giving up the possibility of growth/advancement. Autonomy is king; micromanagement is going to be the death of physicians. If there is a problem within an organization (e.g., a need for cost containment or streamlining of a medical process), let the physician groups come up with their own solutions. There is nothing worse than having an administrator (who may or may not even be in the same field), determining the best approach (or medication!) for resolving a specialty-specific problem. The same can be said for the approach to medical records. As it exists, the system was developed with insurance companies/billing in mind. Developing a more useful tool for capturing important medical information while also cutting down the time spent charting, instead of delivering medical care, is key.
No one is denying that there are problems in health care, and we should always be looking for ways to improve. Working with physicians on these solutions, instead of dictating what needs to be done, will bring about the best outcome. Giving physicians a voice in the discussion empowers physicians to think outside the box. Moreover, other physicians in a group are more likely to “buy-in” if they participated, even if the proposed solution was not what they initially desired. And further, we physicians tend to be more accepting of a solution if it comes from someone who understands the day-to-day of the job.
Having control over what happens at work, and having a voice in outcomes for patients, is vitally important to physicians. That said, so is home life. One of the most stressful burdens on young physicians is childcare for a growing family. The profile of the modern physician has changed, and it now includes more women. It also includes more male physicians taking on more responsibility for childcare arrangements (indeed, many physicians are now in dual-working partnerships and more even parental distribution of child-rearing is becoming commonplace).
With all of this in mind, there is a need for quality on-site childcare. Does this really have to be a pipe dream? Careers in health care are unique, with work responsibilities that require early hours and late nights. The peace of mind that comes from having reliable caretakers is invaluable for all physicians who have dealt with unexpected emergencies (e.g., if a babysitter doesn’t show up or if daycare is canceled for snow and the operating room is waiting on you to start a case).
Financially, it’s a no brainer to provide access to childcare to ensure that physicians can make it in to see patients, perform surgeries, etc. The cost of hiring a qualified childcare provider would be made up quickly if it allowed the physicians to continue to work that day. But more importantly, investment in childcare is a prime way to attain physician satisfaction and retainment. Ultimately, physicians need backup and so do their team members. When a medical assistant needs to miss work to care for her children, it affects the entire team as a physician will need to train/work with a new assistant, which will significantly impact the workflow for the day. An on-site arrangement would be beneficial for all members of the health care team.
Finally, a path for career growth is essential. The feeling of mastery that comes with years in practice is satisfying but most physicians crave innovation, growth, and impact. Recruiting strong performing physicians for leadership opportunities will help stave off boredom. This can be done by sponsoring a younger colleague for awards or speaking engagements. Medical conferences can also be a great way to invigorate careers. Encouraging conference attendance not only helps physicians stay abreast of the latest medical advances but also allows for networking and relationship-building with colleagues.
Encouraging autonomy, subsidizing more work-life options (like childcare), and providing opportunities for career growth will empower physicians, and allow them to keep loving their careers in medicine. Most importantly, these measures show appreciation — holistic appreciation. Most physicians already love the medicine, so tackling solvable issues that make the practice difficult is more than attainable.
Dr. Valerie A. Jones is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist who is passionate about women's health care, personal finance for physicians, and motherhood in medicine. Her writings on these topics can be found on her website. Dr. Jones is a 2019–2020 Doximity Fellow.