A new American Medical Association (AMA) survey of 1,200 medical students, residents and physicians practicing for fewer than 10 years finds individuals largely go into the field of medicine for optimistically altruistic reasons, but respondents acknowledge professional challenges over administrative burden and stress.
The choice is yours
The age demographic of the survey (96% of the respondents were 40 years old or younger) gives a sense of where physicians are in terms of their career path. According to the survey, nine in 10 physicians are satisfied with that choice, despite challenges common to each career stage.
The survey also gave a sense of altruistic calling for individuals in their career choice. "Something that stuck out to me, looking at younger colleagues, was a stronger desire to help people," Dr. Patrice Harris, AMA board chair, told Healthcare Dive. About 60% of respondents said that helping people is a top motivator for choosing their career.
It should be pointed out that the survey shows a continued interest in specialty care versus primary care physicians (78% of all respondents versus 22%). Specialty care is a more lucrative career choice over primary care so while the desire to help people may be a top motivator, the response sample does show a lean toward more financially-beneficial opportunities. On the other, as Dr. Harris notes, the choice of a career and specialty is a very personal decision.
When it comes to those choices, the survey found personal experiences as a patient, volunteer and with family members played a role – across career stages – in realizing respondents' calling to practice medicine. About 70% of respondents stated they knew before they reached the age of 20 they wanted to be physicians, and nearly a third knew before becoming a teenager.
On the decision to continue a career in medicine, 82% cited the desire to help individuals as the top motivation. "One-third of medical students are motivated by the opportunity to advance research and innovation, and one-third is motivated by the ability to influence future healthcare policy," the survey found.
There be administrative dragons to conquer
The survey highlighted how, while rewarding, the choice of physician as a career is not without challenges. As has been noted in recent research, administrative burden (54%), stress (49%) and lack of time (43%) were noted as The Big Three for challenges facing respondents.
Despite these challenges, only 13% of all respondents regularly questioned their decision to practice medicine – more than half of those cited burnout as their top reason for questioning. In fact, 61% percent of all respondents said they would encourage others to enter the field of medicine.
“Physicians may be discouraged at times, but almost every single one of us remains confident in our decision to enter medicine and continues to be driven by our desire to help our patients,” Dr. Andrew W. Gurman, AMA president, said in a prepared statement.
Why it matters to add to the healthcare workforce
Still, administrative burden and stress can lead to physician burnout, which is nothing to shrug off. Last November, Dr. Christine Sinsky, vice president of professional satisfaction at AMA, told Healthcare Dive that while burnout affects many American workers (28% of the total population, she shared), 54% of American physicians are feeling overworked.
Late last fall, Dr. Lisa Ellis, interim vice president of ambulatory operations at VCU Medical Center, told Healthcare Dive that the common symptoms of physician burnout (emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, sense of diminishing accomplishments) can present themselves in a variety of manners including a downward trend in patient satisfaction survey scores, poor physician retention, shorter fuses, an upward trend of medical errors and individuals simply not showing up for work.
A recent Health Affairs blog authored by many AMA members called physician burnout "a public health crisis."
"Hospital administrators are recognizing this [is a problem]," Dr. Harris said, adding that for every hour a physician spends with a patients, they spend two hours with technology. She shared that AMA is working on tools to identify and minimize physician burnout. As EHRs have been identified as being the cause of one area leading to burnout, Harris said it's important to work with EHR vendors to help improve physician's use of technology.
Harris said her overall hope is that the industry helps identify and mitigate burnout causes. Still, the new class of the physician workforce, according to the study, are excited to show up and help patients.