What To Do If You’re Thinking About Quitting Medicine

I recently came across a post on a forum for dentists from a 34 year old dentist. He wanted the group to “help him get out of dentistry.”

He had only been practicing for 8 years and was miserable having to deal both with patient complaints and staffing issues. 

It’s hard for him to decide what to do similar to many other doctors in the same position.

On one hand, people in this situation hate going to work. But on the other hand, what other high-income job could they take in order to pay off student loans and other debt?

Here’s a comment about quitting medicine and physician burnout posted on another forum for doctors:

I’ve been practicing medicine for 12 years and I just realized I hate being a doctor.

I hate being in the medical profession in the United States. It’s all about seeing new patient numbers rise, billing more, doing more clinical work, following outdated guidelines or else CMS won’t pay us… I went into clinical medicine to help people, and now I’m at a tipping point as I can’t connect with my patients or the system. I don’t know what else to do because medical practice has been my life. I’m not qualified for anything else.

As a periodontist, I understand that treating patients and dealing with staff is HARD. I remember early on in practice suffering from neck and back pain caused from being hunched over treating patients all day.

My non-medical friends thought it was funny when I’d occasionally complain about it as they never  could grasp how physically demanding dentistry can be. 

There’s nothing worse than patients telling you that they “hate the dentist” while being in physical pain from treating those that “hate” me. 

I can certainly empathize with others that deal with these types of issues. 

Why Are Doctors Burning Out?

The Physicians Foundation surveyed over 13,000 doctors and their results found that:

  • over 77% of doctors have pessimistic feelings about the future of their profession
  • more than 1/3 would not choose a medical career if they had to start over
  • 58% would NOT recommend the medical field to their children
  • Over 82% of physicians believe doctors have little ability to change the health care system
  • Over 60% of physicians would retire today if they had the means

The majority of those surveyed stated that being constantly over-regulated, doing tons of paperwork, spending too much time with the electronic health record plus the constant thought of being sued contributed to their negative outlook. 

A 2019 Medscape Physician Burnout and Depression survey showed that 45% of physicians are burned out with the three top contributors were:

  1. Too many “bureaucratic tasks” (records, charting, paperwork, etc.)
  2. Overworked contributing to a poor work-life balance
  3. Dealing with Electronic Medical Records (EMR)

This constant wear and tear on the mind erodes the doctor-patient relationship along with the clinical autonomy doctors used to have.

What once seemed a higher calling increasing feels like an assembly-line job.

What I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Dentist

I recently came across an article titled, “12 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Dentist.” 

I couldn’t help but notice that I agreed with most such as:

  • patients constantly tell you that they “hate going to the dentist
  • dental school is VERY expensive
  • most people don’t take their dental care seriously
  • many dentists have neck and back pain
  • dental insurance companies are terrible to deal
  • dentists have a high suicide rate

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Don’t Forget About Money Problems

One of the common reasons doctors think about quitting medicine has to do with money, specifically debt.

Back in 2005, I graduated with roughly $300K in student loan debt. Not only that, but we became a first time home buyer (interest only) based on the fact that I was given a job offer after residency.

Unfortunately that offer fell through two weeks before I completed training which put a lot of financial stress on our family.

Student loan debt and tuition continue to rise each year. Yes, when we become doctors, our higher-than-average incomes help to whittle this down.

But many end up developing an unhealthy cycle of putting in long hours and never taking off for a vacation. Many times it’s due to this overwhelming debt load plus attempting to “keep up with the Joneses” that cause the feeling of burnout.

Related article: The Hedonic Treadmill – Why Stuff Won’t Make You Happier

When doctors burnout, they can become emotionally exhausted, develop a negative or indifferent attitude towards both their patients and staff, and evaluate themselves negatively.

But what about those thinking of quitting medicine or dentistry while still in medical training?

There’s actually a term for this called the “drop out club.”

If dental or medical students decide halfway through school that they want to quit and focus on a different career path, this would put them more than $80,000 to $140,000+ in debt not even factoring in living costs and undergraduate student loan debt.

The longer they put off quitting during training, the worse it can get financially. Many feel that they’ve “sunk” too much time and money into school and thoughts of leaving can wreak havoc on their emotions.

If someone decides to quit during school and start a new career as a failed medical/dental student, many would not make enough money to pay off their debt.

Leaving school early is a recipe for lifelong financial insecurity.

What Can Be Done?

Let’s revisit two of the findings from the previously mentioned survey that stated:

  • Over 60% of physicians would retire today if they had the means
  • Constant wear and tear on the mind erodes the doctor-patient relationship along with the clinical autonomy doctors used to have.

I understand that when someone feels as if they’re stuck in their career then that’s a recipe for disaster.

But what if I were to suggest some good news and a solution to help with those that either:

  • want to prevent burnout
  • are having thoughts of burnout

One such solution is something that more than likely you’re familiar with, financial independence (FI).

This is freedom from having to worry about earning money as there’s enough income streams coming in to take care of your expenses.

Do you think if you acquired this, you’d be able to enjoy your career more?

Heck, it may even cause you to whistle while you work! 

How’s that sound to you?

A financially independent doctor has choices such as:

  • continue working full-time if they choose to
  • only do part-time work
  • consider nonclinical careers
  • retire and pursue their dreams

To me,  reaching financial independence gives you true autonomy.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

My friend Dr. Jimmy Turner, The Physician Philosopher, practices in a high stress field (anesthesia) that tend to have a higher rate of burn out. 

He knows he has choices, such as quitting medicine, but hopes to never have to go down that road.

Here’s some of his reasons why:

#1 He enjoys his work as it provides a sense of purpose

#2 Work is challenging and intellectually stimulating

#3 He enjoys teaching

#4 He likes the people he works with

#5 The money isn’t too shabby either

As with anything in life, we can find success if we learn where to find it.

If you’ve ever felt the signs of “burnout” or quitting medicine then it’s time to do something about it. 

There are several career coaches that can help with this by recommending solutions such as:

  • taking time off
  • mediating
  • yoga
  • working with a coach

All of these recommendations are great but for me, one of the best ways to avoid burnout is becoming financially free

By accomplishing this, you’re able to control what’s in your control.

Want to Avoid Burnout?

The main reason why I started the Passive Investors Circle was to teach doctors and other high-income earners how to reach FI.

Reaching FI during practice gives people choices.

The Passive Investors Circle is where you have personal access to what I’m investing in to provide FI for our family.

You’ll also be able to connect directly with me should you have any questions about how we’re investing for our future.

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