How could I have been burned out? I was only one year into my first job as an physician. I had recognized that, mentally and physically, I was in a bad place. Even though I had made life-long friends and enjoyed working with the staff at my first job, I wanted out! I was not happy and grew increasingly dissatisfied with my decision to enter the field of medicine. I didn’t feel like the same passionate person I once was. I remember speaking with colleagues whose message was, “this is the grind, and you will do it for another 20 years.” I couldn’t imagine working one more year, let alone 20 more years in medicine.
Many in the medical profession would have quickly labeled me a burned-out physician. And why wouldn’t they? I was exhausted, emotionally fatigued, losing interest in the profession, and becoming an angry, cynical, disconnected surgeon. The advice I got from many was to talk with someone, a therapist, coach, or other surgeons that had recovered from such feelings about the profession. It didn’t interest me to talk with others. I knew better…..
The answer was to quit!
Against the advice of others, I gave my employer four months’ notice and quit. Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy. I had just quit my first job as an orthopaedic surgeon without having another job lined up. What was I to do? All I knew was that I needed something else, something where I could work fewer days and have more time off.
The phone call that changed my life.
I still get teary-eyed thinking about it. After quitting my full-time position, I connected with a hospital in rural America. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) called to ask if I could provide part-time coverage as they were short on physicians. Within six weeks, we worked out an agreement that benefited both parties. The hospital would no longer depend on locums agencies to staff their service line, and I got an independent contractor agreement where I was only required to work a minimum of ten days per month. It was exactly what I was looking for, “Part-time.” I worked my days and then had the rest of the month off to decompress and work on other endeavors.
Fast forward four years.
I am glad I didn’t listen to the advice of others to put my head down and keep chugging along. I am much happier now than I was back then. The decision to quit my first job and work part-time as a surgeon was precisely what I needed. I didn’t need therapy! I didn’t need a coach! I needed a part-time job! Since quitting my full-time position, I have contracted with several facilities to provide orthopaedic coverage. This allows me to work and take call 12-16 days per month while having the rest of the month off.
Attitudes about medicine can change.
The beautiful thing to me is that I no longer dread my days working at the hospital. When I start a work stretch, I feel refreshed, and when I struggle to get thru it, I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, time off.
The apple does not fall far from the tree.
After following my dad into medicine, he is now following me. After working his tail off for 30 years in medicine, he now works part-time to spend more time with my mom and his grandchildren. I challenge you to think of practicing medicine differently, like my dad and I, to have more time off to enjoy other things.
If you feel burned out or unhappy with your current job, rather than running to a coach or therapist, consider quitting your full-time role to start a part-time career in medicine. Before leaving your job, ask your employer or private group if they would be willing to work with you part-time. You might be surprised that they would rather have you around part-time than disappear completely. You might find that you are happier in medicine, as I did, as a part-time doctor.
Life comes full circle.
After wanting to leave medicine, I am now advocating for physicians to stay in medicine. On FlexMedStaff.com, we provide the tools, resources, and education for physicians to contract directly with medical facilities for locums, per-diem, part-time, and non-traditional full-time roles without needing staffing agencies, expensive job posting boards, and recruiters. We also support those who work through our transparent agency or others. Whether you are looking to work 1-2 weeks per month, 7-10 days per month, 3-4 days per month, or 1-2 weekends per month, there is an opportunity out there for you. Hopefully, we can grow this community of physicians to encourage administrators to alter their traditional hiring practices and employment models to welcome part-time physicians.