Even the best job in the world can burn you out


If a doctor sighs and then glowers

And complains about government powers

            It just might turn out 

            The guy’s burning out

From putting in too many hours

After my Thursday radio show I dropped into Saint Luke’s to catch up on my medical records.

I got efficient at that onerous task when I was doing a lot of hospital work, up to eighteen patients a day before office, and I was able to whip through 95 documents in about twenty minutes.

Then I sat down to read the comics in the doctors’ lounge.

The news that I’m changing directions has spread, and one of the subspecialists sat down with me to confirm the rumors.  I gave the capsule summary (I’m getting efficient at that, too).  My colleague pointed out that non-compete clauses aren’t enforceable.  I observed that I’m looking forward to going walkabout, and that when I start back up here, after a year, I want to work fewer hours.

“You know,” I said, “they say you spend ten years fighting to build your practice, ten years fighting to hang on to your practice, and ten years fighting to get rid of your practice.  I’m just jumping ahead a little.  If I’m gone for a year, when I come back, the number of patients who follow me will probably be small enough that I can hold it to 40 hours and not get overwhelmed.”

The subspecialist asked if my career move had anything to do with recent legislation.

“No,” I replied, “I made this decision before happened, and before the John Morrell announced the plant closing.  The timing is right.”

We agreed on that point.

We also agreed that my colleague is working way too many hours.

Another doctor joined the conversation, pointing out that if 80% of us didn’t love the work so much we couldn’t get roped into the long days and the intense pace.

That percentage used to be much higher.  Paperwork, regulation, and erosion of autonomy have discouraged a lot of physicians, and driven a lot to early retirement.

Once I talked to a doc who had fled the former Soviet Union.  Doctors there were paid less than truck drivers.  I said that was terrible; he said he would still rather be a doctor than a truck driver.  

I’m talking with recruiters. I’ve spoken with three today and emailed two more. One offered me the choice of two spots here in Iowa, several hours distant, with immediate need.  I listened politely, and then I asked about reimbursement.   I did some quick arithmetic in my head, and pointed out that I could make 68% of my current take by working 37% of the time here in town.  Even if money is not my main motivator, it comes into the equation.

I might take the spot for a month just for the adventure.

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