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The Road to Burnout Helped Me Find My Purpose

Op-Med is a collection of original articles contributed by Doximity members.
Illustration by April Brust

A common proverb teaches that "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Medicine is a world where people are well-intended. Yet they fail to change a system that is broken and continues to produce burned-out, depressed, and suicidal doctors. We can see their final destination, look back, and realize that we helped pave the road that carried them to that destination.

Today, I want to hammer home the purpose of my website, The Physician Philosopher (TPP), and how I am trying to reshape this road our doctors travel. This is why I write. This is my purpose.

The Well-Intentioned

Imagine a world in which a young person decides to pursue a noble profession. All the while, they sacrifice their 20's to chase after an altruistic calling. This is the plight of doctors in training.

We consistently miss weddings, funerals, concerts, kids' soccer games, and family dinners. We have secondary PTSD from pediatric hangings, women dying just after giving birth to their child, and the patient diagnosed with terminal cancer whose family blames the doctor.

Medicine teaches us to turn off our emotions. The profession beckons us to put our hands to the plow, put our heads down, and push. Like soldiers in battle, those to the left and right of us might be falling, but we are told to shut our mouth, do our job, and keep pushing forward.

Through these daunting tasks—as we witness chaos, death, and destruction—we constantly remind ourselves while in training of our higher purpose. As the tunnel gets darker—and burnout, depression, and even suicidal thoughts set in—there is one hope.

Making it to our 30s and finishing training. Becoming an attending physician is the light at the end of the tunnel.

When the Light Isn't So Bright

The problem is that when we finish training, we find out that the burnout often persists. We fall into a world run by administrators, insurance companies, politics, and policy. All that training and the doctor is no longer the captain of their own ship.

We spend less time with patients, and more time with computers. Less time healing, and more time getting hurt. We feel less support and have more non-clinical demands. There is no time to deal with devastating outcomes, and the thought of taking time off simply feels weak.

We find that our expectation—the one that kept us going while we pushed through in training—is much different (and often worse) than anticipated. This difference between our expectations and reality fuels the burnout into a raging fire.

In an attempt to improve our happiness, we buy the house, cars, and private school educations that are befitting of a doctor. Unfortunately, these things do not provide happiness—and often act more like water placed on a grease fire. We think it'll help us, but it actually makes our problem worse!

Many of us learn the art of contentment the hard way, or sadly the lesson comes too late. In fact, as our consumerism culture consumes us, the inflated lifestyle increases the already massive debt burden that we bear.

When we finish training we are supposed to be basking in the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, we feel choked by the all-consuming debt, inflated lifestyle, and decreasing job satisfaction.

Once this vicious cycle starts, it is challenging to stop.

Finding Your Purpose

I write because a financially independent physician is a better doctor. It provides complete control of your job and allows for work-life balance that will increase satisfaction, productivity, and efficiency at work.

There is a physician wellness problem in our country. My dream is to be a part of the movement that helps change this reality for our medical community.

People need to know that there are options. The option to work as an autonomous physician with limited constraints. The option to go part-time or to retire early if the system refuses to change. It allows us to vote with our feet.

All people—and particularly doctors—need to learn that contentment can be found today and that the consumerist culture in which we exist is not the answer. Living a frugal but intentional life allows us to spend money on the things that bring us true joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

Ultimately, I keep up my site in an effort to help prevent all of these problems before they happen in the first place. I want to equip our future and current doctors with the tools necessary to achieve financial independence, avoid being a financial target, and take control of their lives.

They need the freedom to design the life that they want to live.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

TPP is all about disrupting the system that got us here and that continues to pump out doctors who make financial decisions that not only fail to treat their discontent, burnout, and depression, but make all of these things much worse!

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but on this particular well-intentioned road, I want to serve as the sledgehammer to those stones that we paved to get us here. This road needs to be destroyed, removed, and re-routed to the promised land that we all hoped for when we finished training.

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