Alarming rates of physician burnout and the increasing race to medical school
Are pre-medical students the new lambs to the slaughter?
Succeed in the medical school journey and dodge the burnout
“Why do you want to pursue a career in medicine?”
This is the million dollar question.
The article, If you go to medical school, you will be stressed. Bigly., in KevinMD.com points to pretty disheartening statistics on the topic of physician.
Over 50% of both medical students and physicians experience burnout.
Lets take in these stats for a minute. The majority of the highly-skilled and highly-trained professionals that we trust our lives and wellbeing with, don’t even have a sense of well-being themselves?
To add to this paradox, the article also notes that despite the high levels of dissatisfaction from physicians and trainees, the desire and number of applications to medical school has been INCREASING every year rather than DECREASING.
“So here is my question. With the evidence that about half of all medical students, residents, and practicing physicians are burned out and all of the blogs and articles about burnout, why are more people applying to medical school in record numbers every year?”
The article by my colleague ends anticlimactically right there. Not really offering any answers or clues.
In fact, he ends off with this grave warning:
“If you go to medical school, you will be stressed — bigly. It should not come as a surprise. Like cigarettes, maybe med school applications should contain a warning.
Oh and if you think that medical school and residency are stressful, just wait until you are in practice on your own and responsible for what happens to every single patient you care for.”
So why are so many people herding to this specialty that is dropping the majority of its members off a cliff of high dissatisfaction?
Here is my take on this dilemma.
There are two main reasons that students are heading towards this cliff of despair:
THE PURPOSE QUANDARY
THE MEDICAL BLACK BOX
THE PURPOSE QUANDARY
Getting into medical school is a difficult challenge. Only a fraction of those who set out for becoming a physician are actually able to make their dreams come true. And yet the rewards of being a physician are immense. If you ask anyone why they want to become a physician, or why they became a physician, the answer will likely be the same three golden words: “to help people”. Of course there are many other additional rewarding benefits such as the respect and recognition as well as the financial rewards conferred by the word “doctor”, but usually this tends to be the central and most compelling reason.
Regardless of the motivations, the biggest mistake is to make becoming a physician your ultimate purpose, rather than simply a small goal towards your ultimate purpose. This is the Purpose Quandry. The Purpose Quandry in this context is when our goal (of becoming a physician) becomes confused with our ultimate life purpose (to help people).
To better illustrate what I mean by this point, this quote by one of my mentors, Tony Robbins, sums up the Purpose Quandry quite nicely:
In other words, if we glorify becoming a physician any more than being a simple “tool” to use along our journey of making a difference and helping people, you will become hugely dissatisfied and disillusioned once you get there and realize what being a doctor truly entails. This bring us to our second point – what does being a doctor truly entail?
THE MEDICAL BLACK BOX
So what do medical students and doctors really do and how does it relate to feeling dissatisfied?
The huge mismatch between high rates of burnout and increasing medical school applications indicates that there is an alarming gap between what a) pre-medical students expect their experience as a medical student and doctor will be like and b) what it is actuallylike once they reach that stage.
WHAT ACCOUNTS FOR THIS DIFFERENCE?
The day to day frustrations and challenges for medical students and physicians are numerous and will be a feature discussion of future blog posts. Here however I will briefly mention just a few of the reasons why medical students and physicians find their work less rewarding:
long and unsustainable work hours
loss of control in work environment
unrealistic patient expectations
medical resource issues
high debt loads
lack of sufficient quality patient care (due to emphasis on volume)
lack of inadequate personal health resources
unable to take sick days or holidays
feeling like their voices are not heard
malpractice and medical-legal fears and costs
rigorous licensure maintenance requirements
extended duration of training
These “Doc Vader” videos by ZDoggMD are an amazing humorous depiction of some of these reasons:
So how do we tackle this major problem?
The immediate and easiest solution is tackle the one we have most control over. What is apparent from the 15 different systemic problems engrained in the medical profession I outlined above is that these are all issues that will need years of dedicated innovative thinking on behalf of the entire medical and non-medical community to solve. Therefore, as individuals, what we CAN address is issues #1 “The Purpose Quandary”.
If we can re-evaluate and audit our ultimate life purpose to incorporate things that are well beyond simply becoming a physician and well beyond healing the patient at the bed-side, we can build a level of resilience that will carry you well beyond the day-to-day challenges and disappointments of every day medicine. If you are able to make the pursuit of medicine simply a small goal among many other life goals that will move you closer to your ultimate life purpose, then having one set-back or even many set-backs will cause you a relatively negligible overall hindrance.
This is the goal of Student2Pro and this entire web-site. To help impart practical tools and knowledge that will equip you with all the tools you need to build qualities that will help you excel in each area of the medical school pre-requisites, but most importantly, to building your overall character and resilience to think broader and have a greater impact with your future medical career.