ational Doctors Day offers an opportunity to recognize the hard work that physicians across the country do every day. It’s also an opportunity to examine the challenges they face at this time of historic change in health care. Technological advances, the growing burden of chronic conditions, and uncertainty over the future of health system reform are reshaping medical practices and contributing to the job stresses that are associated with physician burnout and the looming shortage of physicians.
To better understand the profession from the perspective of those who are new or relatively new to it, my organization, the American Medical Association, recently surveyed a total of 1,200 medical students, residents, and physicians with 10 or fewer years on the job. The survey asked, among other things, why they became physicians, what challenges they face professionally, and whether they are satisfied with their career choice.
One answer that was loud and clear: medical students, residents, and young physicians overwhelmingly view the profession as a calling, one driven by an innate desire to help others. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they heard this calling while still in their teens.
It happened for me in eighth grade. I grew up in West Virginia, where the African-American population was very small. I didn’t know any African-American female physicians in my community. In fact, I didn’t personally know any physicians. But as far back as I can remember, I wanted to be one. My inspiration came on Tuesday nights, when ABC aired “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Dr. Welby was a fictional character, to be sure, but he was invested in his patients and his community. He used his role as a physician to understand what was going on in a patient’s life beyond his or her immediate health needs and beyond the four walls of his office.