Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Being a Doctor (or Lawyer) Isn't Prestigous

Doctors and evidently lawyers are less satisfied than in the past a New York Times article found. Fewer individuals are heading into these fields because many see better monetary and fame potential in working with startup companies or financial services. Other reasons include a generational difference where individuals want the ability to be creative and authentic to themselves and pursue those fields or start up companies that allow them to thrive. This current cohort was described as:

  • they want immediate rewards — not exactly the mentality that will fuel a student through years of medical school, a residency and additional training for a specialty.
  • “Their attention span, everything, is instant feedback: quick, quick, quick,” Mr. Coleman said. “Apprenticeship, these kids don’t want to do it.”
The numbers of new applicants for medical school has fallen to 42,000, down from 46,000 in 1997, but better than 33,000 in 2003.

As fewer people apply to medical school, current doctors are less satisfied and leaving.

  • As of 2006, nearly 60 percent of doctors polled by the American College of Physician Executives said they had considered getting out of medicine because of low morale, and nearly 70 percent knew someone who already had.
  • Complaints about managed care crimping doctors’ income and authority over medical decisions are nothing new, but the problems are only getting worse, several doctors said.
  • One doctor responding to the American College of Physician Executives survey wrote: “I find it necessary about once every month or two to stay in bed for 24 to 48 hours. I do this on short notice when I get the feeling I might punch somebody.”
  • Increasing workloads and paperwork might be tolerable if the old feeling of authority were still the same, doctors said. But patients who once might have revered them for their knowledge and skill often arrive at the office armed with a sense of personal expertise, gleaned from a few hours on www.WebMD.com, doctors said, not to mention a disdain for the medical system in general.
With many of the best and brightest heading off to startup their own companies or joining the ranks of the financial services for big bucks and perhaps fame, fewer are becoming doctors. As the baby boomers enter retirement and as Americans continue to live longer with many chronic illnesses, there will be fewer doctors available to treat patients. Potentially a doctors' shortage may occur as current doctors are tired of the current system and are quitting as a shortfall of new doctors occurs.

Many of my colleagues will not advise their children to become doctors because the hassles of practicing have been far more onerous than the satisfaction of caring for others.

What does this mean to you? Various possibilities. You may need to wait longer as fewer doctors will be available while at the same time the time you spend with them is shorter. Another possibility is that doctors from outside the United States continue to immigrate to make up the shortfall meaning that you will be treated by non-US medical school graduates. Perhaps doctors and their care will be outsourced. You might travel overseas to have expensive surgeries performed, which is already occurring for many Americans.

This is not to say you should feel sorry for doctors. There still is something very sacred and precious about having the privilege of helping a complete stranger. It is one of few professions where an individual, a doctor, can walk in a room and the other person can reveal anything which may not be known by his most intimate companion.

Nevertheless if trends continue, this observation could end up being a true healthcare crisis. You will feel the doctors' pain in a real way.

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