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Physicians, You CAN Have It All: How To Run A Business And Also Practice Medicine

It’s no secret that physicians are experiencing burnout at an exponentially increasing rate in our progressively bureaucratic healthcare system. Many are looking for “alternative careers” as their salvation. I receive emails from physicians all the time, asking for advice about getting out of clinical medicine, since I have spent a few years outside it myself. As my own career pendulum has swung from full time clinical work to full time editorial and/or consulting work, I’ve found that the best mix is somewhere in between.

If you’re like me, you’re happiest using both halves of your brain. You have a creative side (I’m a cartoonist and blogger) and an analytic side (hospital-based physician). It’s not easy to make a living as a cartoonist or writer, and it’s soul-sucking to work 80 hour weeks in the hospital without rest. So how do you make a living, but participate in all the things you love? You work as a traveling physician (aka locum tenens) one third of your time, and spend the other two-thirds doing the creative things you also enjoy.

“But I couldn’t survive on 1/3 of my salary,” you say. Actually, I make the equivalent of a full-time academic physiatrist salary while working ~14 weeks a year as a traveling physician. Really? Yes, really. Because when I’m filling in at a hospital with an acute need, the work hours are long, and I’m paid by the hour. It can be grueling, but it is short, and the pay is fair so morale remains high. Drawing a flat employee salary (and then often discovering that the work load requires double the time estimated by the employer) can cause a lot of unconscious resentment. But when you are paid for your time, long hours aren’t as dread-worthy. This is what attorneys have been doing from day one, so why not physicians?

“But if all physicians suddenly dropped to half or 1/3 time, wouldn’t that do irreparable damage to patient access?” you cry.  Yes, it could be catastrophic. However, if physicians stay the course and do nothing about our burnout, then the powers that be will continue tightening the vice – targeting physician reimbursement, increasing the burden of bureaucratic monitoring, pay for performance measures, and meeting “meaningless abuse” requirements for our electronic medical records systems. If there are no consequences to their actions, why would they ever stop?

I don’t think that most physicians will read this blog post and quit their jobs. I’m not worried about a sudden reduction in the physician work force. What I am offering is a suggestion for those of you who have a secret passion outside of clinical practice – a pathway that allows you to continue practicing medicine, and also enjoy cultivating your other talents. I’m hoping my advice will actually reduce the full drop out rate (if you believe the polls, up to 60% of PCPs would retire today if they had the means) to partial drop out rate (keeping those wanting to quit completely working part time).

So if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do (A non-profit endeavor? A low-paying, but rewarding job? Running a small business that can’t pay all the bills but is fun to do?) I say do it! Life is too short to get caught on the clinical treadmill, driving your spirits into the ground. You love your patients but can’t tolerate the work pace? Don’t quit altogether… you can still be a fantastic, caring, clinician in fewer hours/week and make the salary you need to maintain a reasonable lifestyle.

Please see my previous blog post to gain more insight into whether or not locum tenens might work for you.

And here’s a video of my recent thoughts about locum tenens work:

The Benefits Of Locum Tenens Work

Many Newly Minted Physicians Regret Going Into Medicine

Sometimes having no end of job prospects, more than one in four new doctors regret going into medicine by their graduation, according to a recruitment firm survey.

Recruiters Merritt, Hawkins asked new doctors if they would study medicine if they had it all to do over again, and 28% said they would select another field, up from 18% in a similar survey in 2008.

Still, the newly minted physicians have plenty to do while they mull other options. About 78% of newly minted physicians received at least 50 job solicitations during their training, and 47% received 100 or more contacts from recruiters.

Despite the heavy rotation of recruiters, residents Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Dermatologists Relocate To The Sunniest Parts Of The U.S.

Dermatologists spend their days telling patients to avoid the sun and their careers striving to practice in it. They’re leaving the Midwest and mountain states to practice in the southern and western U.S.

To evaluate the migration patterns of dermatologists from residency to clinical practice, researchers reviewed data from the American Academy of Dermatology’s membership database. They looked at 7,067 dermatology residents who completed training before 2005 and were actively practicing in 2009. Results appeared at the September issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

Most graduates from Middle Atlantic and Pacific census divisions relocated Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

A Thank You A Day…

This is a guest post by Dr. John Schumann.


I just read the book “365 Thank Yous” by John Kralik. I heard an interview with the author on NPR and it caught my attention.

Kralik had been down on his luck in 2007: Divorced twice, overweight, with a struggling law firm that he’d started, he was also failing in a new romantic relationship. He was worried about losing his seven-year-old daughter, too, in a custody dispute.

He made a momentous decision: Instead of feeling sorry for himself (easy to do given his predicaments), he decided to be grateful for what he had. To show it, he vowed to write a thank-you note every day for the next year. What do you think happened?

His life changed for the better. His relationship improved. His clients started paying their bills and his firm’s financial footing solidified. His health improved. He eventually achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a judge. To top it off, he turned his personal quest into a writing project. Within minutes of writing a book proposal, he received responses from agents who hoped to shepherd his project. Every writer’s dream.

I’ll grant you that it sounds hokey. But there are a couple of things the book demonstrated to me. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

More Physician Temps Needed For Doctor Shortage

The use of temporary physicians is rising, filling in until permanent physicians can be hired amid the ongoing shortage of doctors nationwide, a locum tenens firm has found. The company estimates between 30,000 and 40,000 physicians worked on a locum tenens basis in 2010.

The survey, by Staff Care, polled hospital and medical group managers about their use of locum tenens. Eighty-five percent said their facilities had used temporary physicians sometime in 2010, up from 72 percent in 2009.

Psychiatrists and other behavioral health specialists were the most sought-after specialty (22 percent of all requests), followed by primary care physicians, defined as family physicians, general internists and pediatricians (20 percent) and internal medicine subspecialists (12 percent). Hospitalists were 9 percent.

According to the survey, the primary reason cited by 63 percent of healthcare facilities was to fill a position until a permanent physician could be found. Forty-six percent of healthcare facilities now use locum tenens physicians to fill in for physicians who have left the area, compared to 22 percent in 2009. Fourteen percent use locum tenens doctors to either help meet rising patient demand for medical services or to fill in during peak times, such as flu season. Fifty-three percent use locum tenens physicians to fill in for physicians who are on vacation, ill or for other absences.

Most locum tenens physicians plan to stick with temporary practice in the short-term, the company noted. Sixty percent said they plan to practice on a locum tenens basis for more than three years, 28 percent for one to three years and 12 percent for less than a year.

Freedom trumps pay, the company noted, as 82 percent cited flexibility as a benefit, compared to 16 percent who identified pay as a benefit. Other reasons cited for working as a locum tenens include absence of medical politics (48 percent), travel (44 percent), professional development (21 percent) and searching for permanent practice (20 percent).

The locum tenens option is important to maintaining physician supply, the company concluded, because during a time of physician shortages it allows doctors who might be considering full retirement to remain active in medicine.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Cartoon

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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