Thursday, July 26, 2012

Residents (and medical students) burning out from clinical medicine in the fall

July 1 marks the traditional start of internship/residency around the country. Many programs start in mid-June to help their interns get acclimated. It's only been a few weeks for some interns, but some are already burning out.

I'm always getting messages from interns, residents and medical students who are burning out from clinical medicine. They're not even thinking about all the issues tied to reimbursement. Rather, they are caught up with the heavy workload, the stress of patient care, and they're struggling to meet all the demands of various patients who often have social concerns and other complicating factors. This is particularly problematic in the fall when patient volume increases, when new interns are no longer technically "new," and when you're often entering and leaving work when it's dark outside.

Some of these residents and students burning out choose to quit or leave the world of clinical medicine. They make this decision without a solid exist strategy and then they find themselves asking many questions like, "what should I do with my career?"

Exiting the world of clinical medicine isn't easy if you want to maintain a steady income that compares with the kind of money that most attending physicians make. Residents and fellows are generally making $50-70k each year, but compare that to a six-figure salary. Do you feel trapped by a heavy burden caused by student loans?

If you're burning out, find a way to rest and recharge. Talk to your supervisor or discuss things with mental health services. Leaving clinical medicine may seem like the easy answer and the right thing to do, but it may put you in a worse situation (at least financially and possibly mentally and emotionally), so don't make that decision abruptly. Consider your alternatives, speak with as many knowledgeable people as possible, and make sure that you're making an informed decision before you do something that may be irreversible. You can find others who have departed from clinical medicine by joining online social communities like the Society of Physicians with Non-Clinical Careers. Get input from others who have traveled down similar paths so that you can be prepared for the journey that lies ahead of you. 

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