How Physicians Can Regain Control Over Their Careers (and Get Their Lives Back)

By: curativetalent

Curative’s very own Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Mehall, recently sat down with Dr. Jen Barna and her top-rated “DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast,” to discuss what career fulfillment means for physicians, how to avoid burnout, and popular alternative career options for healthcare providers. 

You can listen to the full episode here: How the Right Recruiter Can Help You Solve Your Work-Life Balance Problem With Dr. John Mehall

Below are some of the highlights from the illuminating discussion, which spanned a range of topics.

“Peeling Back the Onion” to Find the Right Job

Finding the right job doesn’t just happen and rarely finds you. It takes honest self-evaluation of your priorities, a willingness to understand and embrace what you really want, and careful planning. When a physician is experiencing burnout or looking at changing jobs, many of the times it’s because they got into a situation that didn’t align with their true needs or priorities. It’s absolutely critical to put aside your assumptions, do some soul searching and “peel back the onion” to get an in-depth understanding of your professional goals and personal needs. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • What do I want to derive from work? What is my ‘why’ for doing this?
  • What is important to me outside of work?
  • Where do I/we want to live? 
  • How important is compensation for your happiness?
  • What is important other than compensation? Schedule or hour flexibility, benefits, vacation time, etc.
  • Do I have trouble setting boundaries around work? Could that be an issue in this job?
  • What does your ideal work environment look like, and does your interaction with other providers look like? 
  • What are the values of the employer and potential co-workers?
  • What does my significant other or family need? Can that be accommodated by this job?
  • If you have a family or plan on having a family, what does your role look like in the family and can this job accommodate that?

Approaching Your Career Choices from a Position of Strength

Medical education has become increasingly expensive, and the significant debt plus the loss of the time value of money due to long training can sometimes “trap” physicians and limit their career options. Research shows that 52% of residents have over $200,000 in debt, and most do not start their practice until they are in their 30’s, losing valuable time to save for retirement. Compounding this challenge is the pent up demand for lifestyle and consumerism that physicians have after a spartan lifestyle during training. Leaving residency is a critical time when income jumps up significantly, but the new surplus must address both debt and savings, as well as lifestyle and pent up demands.  Failing to appropriately address debt and savings can prevent physicians from getting to a safe zone financially where they are able to evaluate how they work from a position of strength. Getting to a place of good financial standing (i.e. ample savings, manageable student loans, etc.) is imperative if you want to be able to define work on your terms, be able to slow down or choose a less-demanding schedule, or leave full-time roles for part-time or locum tenens assignments. 

The Power of Saying “No” and Setting Boundaries

Learning how to set boundaries and knowing when to say “No” is critical for personal well-being and to prevent burnout. Setting boundaries ensures you are giving enough attention to each part of your life, including work, relationships, and hobbies. Limiting your commitments and not allowing yourself to be overextended can be counter-intuitive for many physicians, who have been programmed to continue to add responsibilities and are often addicted to the highs of achieving ‘goals’. However, responsibilities can easily snowball, and you’ll find you continually add things to your plate, but never take anything off. Understanding when to say “No” to preserve time for yourself and activities outside of work is an acquired skill, and one of the most important things a physician can learn.

The Value of Working with a Recruiter 

With their formative years spent chasing goals in a pre-charted course, many physicians have not done the introspection to understand what is important to them and what they really want from work.  Because of this blind spot, many physicians end up in jobs where they are unhappy and are looking for a change.  Here is where working with a recruiter can make the difference between just finding another job, and finding the right job to meet your needs.  Recruiters are experienced professionals that help hundreds of physicians truly understand why they are looking to change jobs, what is important to them, and what has to be present in the next job to make it a successful fit.  Working with a recruiter often results in new discoveries of why physicians are unhappy and what is essential in the right job to be happy after making a change.

For many physicians, setting work-life boundaries is difficult because they feel a loyalty to their patients even when someone else is supposed to be available. The growing burden of administrative and non-clinical tasks inevitably bleeds over into personal time as well.  For physicians who struggle to set or protect their boundaries, defined work - clearly scheduled on and off time - can be a powerful solution. One example of defined work is locum tenens. With locum tenens, physicians can control their own schedule, where they work, and how much they work. Part-time, full-time, local, or far from home, all the details are worked out in advance. For physicians looking to regain autonomy and control over their careers, locums is increasingly popular as a career alternative. It’s also a terrific opportunity to see the country or even the world (while on board a cruise ship!), and try out different types of work environments, all while still earning a good living. Overbearing administrative tasks are rarely an issue with this type of role. With locum tenens, physicians spend significantly less time on paperwork than their full-time counterparts, instead focusing on patient care and enjoying the satisfaction of helping people.

About Dr. John Mehall & Dr. Jen Barna

John R. Mehall, MD, MBA, FACS, FACC is the Chief Medical Officer of Curative, Doximity’s physician staffing firm. He is a nationally recognized cardiac surgeon and healthcare leader who has founded multiple healthcare businesses, including a staffing business.

Jen Barna, MD is a board-certified practicing radiologist, and founder and CEO of DocWorking, a company that helps physicians and other healthcare professionals maximize meaning and purpose in life both in and out of work, by combining expert coaching, peer support communities, and highly interactive courses that have maximum impact using minimal time. She is also the co-host of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast, now ranked on multiple lists as a top physician podcast. 

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