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Doctor FAQ: How Do I Know When to Leave Medicine?

There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the epidemic of physician burnout. Doctors face countless challenges and frustrations during their careers, and many individuals are questioning whether they want to stay in the field of medicine.

At the same time, making a major career change is an enormous decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. You’ve invested years of your life into getting to where you are, and it’s important to step back and analyze the situation with a clear mind.

The truth is, only you can decide if you want to leave medicine and when the right time is to pull the plug. What you should know, though, is that there are paths you can take where you can earn more and work less while still utilizing the knowledge and skills you worked so hard to achieve.

Maybe you’re considering changing positions within your current field, transitioning to a non-clinical role, or quitting medicine altogether. No matter where you are on this spectrum, taking a closer look at your situation with honesty and self-awareness can help you make the right decision for you.

First Things First: You’re Not Alone

If you’re thinking about leaving medicine, the first thing you’ll want to realize is that you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by the American Medical Association, one out of every five doctors is actively planning to leave medicine at some time within the next two years.

There are a lot of different factors driving the trend of doctors quitting their jobs, including physician burnout, the desire for greater work/life balance, frustration with the administration or administrative tasks, and struggling with a lack of autonomy.

A Group of Doctors

The decision to leave medicine isn’t easy, and it’s worth asking yourself the following questions before making the leap. That being said, if you do decide to pursue a non-clinical career, it can be nice to know that you’re not the only one experiencing frustration with the field of medicine.

Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re Thinking About Leaving Medicine

Are you starting to have serious doubts about continuing a career in medicine? Do you feel unhappy, stressed, and unfulfilled?

Questioning your life as a doctor is something that can bring about a complicated network of emotions and feelings, and it’s worth taking the time to carefully analyze the situation. Making a career change is a huge decision, no matter your field, but it can feel particularly overwhelming after you’ve made such a significant investment in getting to where you are today.

A Doctor Thinking About Leaving Medicine

Going through this list of questions and answering honestly can be a good place to begin. With careful self-assessment, you can learn more about what parts of medicine you are unhappy with, what you want out of life, and how you can best direct your energy to achieve your full potential in work and life.

Why Did You First Get Into Medicine?

When you’re thinking about making a major career change after dedicating so much of your time and energy toward medicine, it can be useful to go back to basics.

What motivated you to initially become a doctor?

When you think about the answer to this question, there’s a good chance it’s a multifaceted collection of factors.

Motivated Med School Students

Maybe you always knew you wanted to work in a profession where you helped people or were motivated by financial stability and job security. Maybe you felt pressured into it by your family, or maybe watching a dear friend struggle with an illness led you down this path.

In most cases, you’ll find that there was a confluence of reasons that led you to where you are. Remembering what drove you to pursue medicine can help you analyze whether it has turned out to be the career you expected and whether it’s time for a total career shift or just making a few changes to the way you practice medicine.

When Did You Start Questioning Your Career as a Doctor?

Do you remember having a lot of doubts about becoming a doctor early on in medical school? Is it only something that you’ve recently started questioning?

Identifying exactly when you started having second thoughts about being a doctor can be a useful exercise, as you might realize that you’re still happy with the career, but you aren’t satisfied with your current role.

For example, maybe you have only started doubting your career as a doctor since you started a job at a hospital in a new city. In this new position, you could be dealing with significant problems with the administration or colleagues in a way that leads you to question whether you want to stay in medicine, but could be solved by finding a better work environment.

A Doctor Questioning Their Career

Similarly, you’ll want to think about how persistent these feelings are. Do you only occasionally think about leaving medicine but are otherwise pretty happy with your job? If that’s the case, it’s important to remember that most people will experience doubts about their careers from time to time.

On the other hand, maybe your desire to leave medicine is something you’re frequently dealing with. Perhaps you feel trapped in your profession and are practically desperate to find a way out. Your ability to be fully present with patients is significantly disturbed, and you often feel unhappy.

If this is the case, you will certainly want to address the dissatisfaction. It’s possible that changing your position within your current organization, finding a new job with a different organization, or maybe even starting your own practice could be the solution. Maybe you want to find new ways to utilize your skills and knowledge in a non-clinical role. Or, maybe it’s time for a complete career change.

Only you can decide what is right for you in this regard. It’s important, though, to remember that there are plentiful options available to you no matter which route you choose.

Is Medicine the Problem or Your Current Job?

Building off of an example given in the previous section, it’s important to remember that medicine is a very broad field. There are many different practice settings in which a doctor can work, and it’s possible that you’d be happy staying in medicine if you could experience a change in what it means for your day-to-day life.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with deciding that you’re completely done with practicing medicine. At the same time, making a significant career move is a drastic change, so it’s worth taking the time to fully analyze why you’re feeling this way.

Doctors Practicing Medicine

For example, with greater inquiry into the situation, you might realize that you are struggling with your current workplace’s culture. Or, you might determine that you are dealing with a significant personality conflict that is seriously disrupting your enjoyment of your work.

It’s possible that changing your setting could radically solve some of the current problems you’re dealing with– but it’s also possible that it won’t. This all depends on the root cause of where your dissatisfaction and frustration are coming from. 

Signs It Might Be Time to Leave Medicine

Everyone feels dissatisfied with their job from time to time, so it can be difficult to know whether your frustration with medicine is normal or a sign that it’s time to get out of the game.

A Team of Doctors

While every individual will have their own unique experience, here are some signs you can watch out for that might indicate it’s time for a change.

Your Work-Life Balance Is Out of Sorts

A desire for greater work-life balance is, by far, the most frequent reason that doctors leave their jobs. According to one study, most doctors work, on average, more than 50 hours a week, with 25% of them working 61-80 hours a week.

At the same time, it’s unclear whether the calculation of the average hours doctors spend working even includes the time they spend at home doing additional work. That being said, the mere fact that additional time is spent doing paperwork and catching up at home indicates a problem with work-life balance in the physician community.

Doctors at Work

If you feel like your work-life balance is completely out of sorts, it might be time to think about what you want from your career and life. Has work so completely taken over your waking hours that it’s damaging other relationships and interests you have?

Maintaining a work-life balance is essential for preventing burnout and reducing stress. As a doctor, you probably know that chronic stress can also lead to a long list of health problems. If your physical and mental health are suffering and you’re struggling to find time to engage in anything other than work, it might be time to think about a new life strategy that supports your whole being.

You’re Suffering From Burnout

Physician burnout has been a serious problem for some time, and the pandemic only exacerbated this phenomenon. When you experience stress over a long period of time, it can lead to burnout and result in emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of decreased personal achievement.

A Doctor Suffering From Burnout

If you’re dealing with burnout, you’re not alone. According to a report from the American Medical Association in 2022, 51% of respondents were experiencing burnout. Many factors can contribute to doctor burnout, but one major source of burnout and frustration is the sheer amount of administrative tasks they are burdened with.

You’re Struggling Financially

Having money problems as a doctor can feel pretty frustrating, considering that it is often considered a career that offers financial stability. The truth is that the common conception of doctors being rich is seriously limited, with a general lack of awareness of the reality that salaries are very dependent on a doctor’s specialty, location, and other factors.

On top of that, there’s a good chance that you’re paying back medical student debt– which currently averages a little over $205k– which can feel like an enormous and impossible burden on your shoulders. 

A Doctor Struggling Financially

If you’re struggling financially as a doctor, it’s worth knowing that there are other avenues you can explore using your knowledge and skills that will pay you more and require that you work less. It’s possible to increase your income and improve your work-life balance at the same time.

You’re Struggle to Connect With Patients

When you’re dealing with burnout, it can result in feelings of depersonalization. This can mean that you struggle to empathize with them or even deal with negative attitudes toward them.

You might wonder whether you’re not a good doctor or even a good person– but it’s time to put these feelings to rest.

The truth is the modern medical industry often demands too much from doctors. If you’re struggling to connect with patients, it doesn’t mean that you are a failure as a doctor– far from it.

A Doctor Struggling to Connect With a Patient

What it points to is the burnout that many physicians deal with. They are overburdened with too many patients, too little time to treat them, and too many administrative tasks. On top of that, they feel like they don’t have any time at the end of the day to be fully present in their personal lives, which can spiral into creating further dissatisfaction during working hours.

If you feel like the reason you got into medicine– helping people– is something that you simply can’t accomplish within your current position, it might be time to think about making a change.

Remember, there are many avenues through which you can help patients and utilize your education and skills that don’t demand that you burn the candle at both ends. 

You Want More From Your Work and From Your Life

If you simply can’t see yourself continuing down the same path until you one day retire, many options are available. It can be so frustrating to go through years of rigorous schooling to become a doctor only to find that it keeps you from fulfilling your true potential in both your work and your life. 

It is possible to both work less and earn more as a doctor. At the same time, going to medical school doesn’t give you the skills you need to build your own business. Working for yourself and paving your own way can be a liberating and exhilarating experience, but it also requires that many of the responsibilities your current employer takes on become your own.

A Doctor Wanting More From Work and Life

If you are looking for fulfillment in life and you feel like practicing medicine in the traditional manner simply isn’t going to cut it, you’re in the right place. It’s my mission to help physicians build profitable businesses that give them more time and freedom in their lives.

If you’re ready to make the leap, you can learn more about how to work with me.