The “Seven Year Itch” is a phrase used to describe a phenomenon where some married couples experience a period of declining interest and dissatisfaction with their relationship around the seven-year mark. The term was popularized by the 1955 movie, “The Seven Year Itch,” starring Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell, in which Ewell’s character fantasizes about being unfaithful to his wife after seven years of marriage.
Just as some couples tend to grow apart over the first seven years of marriage, physicians are growing disconnected from medicine and seeking a break. Whereas individuals may have conflicting feelings about getting a divorce, many physicians are conflicted by the thoughts of leaving medicine and caring for the patients they were trained to take care of.
In this article, we explore why couples experience the seven-year itch and draw similarities to the number of younger physicians, particularly women, who are expected to have shorter careers than previous generations because of their deteriorating relationship with medicine.
Similarities between the seven-year itch and physicians leaving medicine.
The seven-year itch in marriage and physicians leaving medicine share some fundamental similarities. These similarities stem from an underlying cause of a lack of appreciation and respect for one another, a sense of disconnection, and a need for change or rejuvenation. Let’s review the 10 reasons marriages succumb to the seven-year itch and why physicians are likely to have shorter careers in medicine.
#1. Routine and boredom. Couples may feel bored or restless in their marriage. Similarly, physicians with unfulfilling jobs will lack the enthusiasm and energy needed to continue in their current positions.
#2. Detached. Couples may feel disconnected and detached from each other. Likewise, physicians may feel detached from their patients, colleagues, and administrators, leading them to quit.
#3. Sense of entrapment. A feeling of being ‘stuck’ in either a marriage or a career can lead to depression, stress, and anxiety. Both situations can be challenging to break out of, making these feelings worse.
#4. Neglected. Couples may begin to feel neglected and underappreciated. Similarly, physicians may feel that they are not getting enough recognition or appreciation from their peers and administrators, which makes their commitment to medicine worth it.
#5. Poor communication. As couples settle into their relationships, they may become less communicative, leading to misunderstandings, unmet needs, and other issues. So many physicians feel their voices are not being heard, leading them to quit medicine.
#6. Lack of novelty. Over time, the excitement and novelty of a new relationship can fade, and couples may struggle to find ways to keep things fresh and exciting. The healthcare industry has a way of making you feel needed but then begins to wear you down over the years.
#7. External stressors. Outside stressors such as financial difficulties, health problems, or family issues can strain any relationship, making it harder for couples to maintain a strong connection. Similarly, physicians do not have time to devote to their lives outside medicine, leading them to contemplate leaving medicine.
#8. Changing priorities. As people age, their priorities may shift, leading to tension and dissatisfaction in a relationship. The same is true in medicine, where we see healthcare systems move their priorities, causing physicians to choose to quit medicine rather than stay in it.
#9. Lack of intimacy. Sexual attraction and desire can ebb and flow over time, and couples may find themselves less sexually compatible as they age. At first, what attracted a physician to a new opportunity may become less desirable, leading to frustrations and a longing to seek new experiences.
#10. Outside distractions. Just as couples must weather the temptations of social media that might distract an individual from their marriage, physicians are enticed by the many options to leave their current positions. Physicians are routinely being offered better financial opportunities by staffing agencies and non-clinical opportunities.
The seven-year itch in marriage and reasons for physicians leaving medicine are similar. Both involve a period of strain, dissatisfaction, and lack of appreciation that can lead to issues if left unchecked. The key is to proactively address the problems before they become too severe. In marriages, this could involve couples therapy, spending quality time together, and being willing to make changes. To combat the number of physicians looking to leave medicine for other careers, many steps to correct this must be taken. We must focus on preserving and improving the relationship physicians have with medicine. To start, we must advocate for open communication and transparency at all levels of the healthcare industry. Without these elements in a relationship, physicians will continue to be conflicted about staying in medicine without the respect and appreciation they deserve.
Ultimately, the common thread between the seven-year itch in marriage and physicians leaving traditional medicine is that both require proactive measures to keep relationships and careers on track.