The Road To Burnout Helped Me Find My Purpose

A common proverb teaches that “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  Medicine is a world where people are well-intended. Yet they fail to change a system that is broken and continues to produce burned out, depressed, and suicidal doctors. We can see their final destination, look back, and realize that we helped pave the road that carried them to that destination.

Today, I want to hammer home the purpose of this site and how I am trying to reshape this road our doctors travel.  This is why I write. This is my purpose.

The Well Intentioned

Imagine a world in which a young person decides to pursue a noble profession.  All the while, they sacrifice their 20’s to chase after an altruistic calling. This is the plight of doctors in training.

We consistently miss weddings, funerals, concerts, kids’ soccer games, and family dinners.  We have secondary PTSD from pediatric hangings, women dying just after giving birth to their child, and the patient diagnosed with terminal cancer whose family blames the doctor.

Medicine teaches us to turn off our emotions.  The profession beckons us to put our hands to the plow, put our heads down, and push. Like soliders in battle, those to the left and right of us might be falling, but we are told to “shut our mouth, do our job, and keep pushing”.

Through these daunting tasks – as we witness chaos, death, and destruction – we constantly remind ourselves while in training of our higher purpose.  As the tunnel gets darker – and burnout, depression, and even suicidal thoughts set in – there is one hope.

Making it to our 30s and finishing training.  Becoming an attending physician is the light at the end of the tunnel.

When The Light Isn’t So Bright

The problem is that when we finish training, we find out that the burnout often persists. We fall into a world run by administrators, insurance companies, politics, and policy. All that training, and the doctor is no longer the captain of their own ship.

We spend less time with patients, and more time with computers. Less time healing, and more time getting hurt.  We feel less support, and have more non-clinical demands.  There is no time to deal with devastating outcomes, and the thought of taking time simply feels weak.

We find that our expectation – the one that kept us going while we pushed through in training – is much different (and often worse) than anticipated. This difference between our expectations and reality fuels the burnout into a raging fire.

In an attempt to improve our happiness, we buy the house, cars, and private school educations that are befitting of a doctor.  Unfortunately, these things do not provide happiness – and often act more like water placed on a grease fire.  We think it’ll help us, but it actually makes our problem worse!

Many of us learn the art of contentment the hard way, or sadly he lesson comes too late.  In fact, as our consumerism culture consumes us, the inflated lifestyle increases the already massive debt burden that we bear.

When we finish training we are supposed to be basking in the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, we feel choked by the all consuming debt, inflated lifestyle, and decreasing job satisfaction.

Once this vicious cycle starts, it is challenging to stop.

The Road To Burnout Helped Me Find My Purpose

I write because a financially independent physician is a better doctor.  It provides complete control of your job, and allows for work-life balance that will increase satisfaction, productivity, and efficiency at work.

There is a physician wellness problem in our country.  My dream is to be a part of the movement that helps change this reality for our medical community.

People need to know that there are options.  The option to work as an autonomous physician with limited constraints.  The option to go part-time or to retire early if the system refuses to change.  It allows us to vote with our feet.

All people – and particularly doctors – need to learn that contentment can be found today and that the consumerism culture in which we exist is not the answer.  Living a frugal, but intentional life allows us to spend money on the things that bring us true joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment.

Ultimately, this blog exists to help prevent all of these problems before they happen in the first place. I want to equip our future and current doctors with the tools necessary to achieve financial independence, avoid being a financial target, and take control of their lives.

They need the freedom to design the life that they want to live.

The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions

This site is all about disrupting the system that got us here and that continues to pump out doctors who make financial decisions that not only fail to treat their discontent, burnout, and depression  – but make all of these things much worse!

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but on this particular well-intentioned road, I want to serve as the sledgehammer to those stones that we paved to get us here. This road needs to be destroyed, removed, and re-routed to the promise land that we all hoped for when we finished training.

Why did I start this blog that consumes so much of my passion and my time?  Because teaching others about the route to financial independence just may help save one doctor, one marriage, or one family.

That’s why I write.  Why I fight.  And why I’ll continue to do so.  I hope you’ll join me in this journey.

Are you burned out?  How are you helping solve these problems?
Will you join me in this journey? Leave a comment below.

TPP

 

 

24 thoughts on “The Road To Burnout Helped Me Find My Purpose

  1. Amazing blog. A true battle cry!

    After spending some time in the VA and seeing the effects of PTSD first hand, I always felt bad saying I had PTSD from abusive training and compassion fatigue. I wonder how you got to the term “secondary PTSD?”

    Last month a 20 something year old kid died from a progressive mold infection. I had told him two weeks before he was going to die if it counts didn’t improve. When he did die I felt nothing.

    I remember feeling before; I remember crying. Is now the time to get out of medicine?

    Or is now the time to work on the third leg of the burn out problem: financial independence? Being FI, you choose to go to work each day to care for others before yourself and family. You choose a noble profession and pretty good remuneration. Sledgehammer on!

  2. Great post man! The similarities of the Doctor journey sound a bit like the military in some ways, especially the ‘turn off your emotions’ part. We’re humans, our emotions don’t have convenient switches like that.

  3. I do hope that this battle cry against burnout takes hold. It is hard to change a system that has been ingrained into culture for so long. Medical students and residents often wear it as a badge of honor of how little sleep they get or how many hours they put in a week in the hospital.

    We’ve made it almost like a sign of weakness if you can’t keep up with this demanding schedule and therefore many people suffer in silence.

    The quest for financial independence is getting harder and harder as the margins for mistakes is getting slimmer with increasing tuition and decreasing reimbursements making a deadly combination.

    Keep writing like you do, as will I, and hopefully a percentage of physicians will get the message and make the change. We have a long ways to go, but hopefully a movement can get started.

    • It is definitely an up hill battle. I think that the culture can be changed. And that’s the most important part before any concrete changes can occur.

      I also agree that with the increasing rates of loans, the margin for failure is much smaller. If lifestyles are inflated while in this crippling debt, it will certainly compound the problem as I describe above.

      Glad to have some teammates on this journey to change the system!

  4. What a refreshing view and call to action for physicians. Every doc I talk to, including my own expresses frustration with the system. They’re seeing more patients spending less time with them, suffering stress and burnout.

    Your voice is an important one. I hope the word spreads. Speaking with your feet is something I doubt will take hold for the very reasons you cite (debt, lifestyle inflation, etc.). Those things keep people stuck. Physicians come out with so much debt it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

    Keep pressing on, man. It’s a great cause. Yours is an important voice.

  5. You’ve so eloquently nailed why I write about burnout, though I’ve gone about it in a different way. I’m glad we’ve started to have these difficult conversations out in the open. Keep on fighting the good fight!

  6. Hi TPP: Very nice meeting you in person at FinCon.

    I love this paragraph from your article:

    “In an attempt to improve our happiness, we buy the house, cars, and private school educations that are befitting of a doctor. Unfortunately, these things do not provide happiness – and often act more like water placed on a grease fire. We think it’ll help us, but it actually makes our problem worse!”

    Oh so true!

  7. Most physicians already work too many hours. Do you find that writing is part of your self-care? Do you find it difficult to balance your needs to sleep, mentally unwind, but also contribute to this side project? How much time do you commit to The Physician Philosopher each week?
    At times, I wonder how much my side project contributes to an increased sense of burnout, even though it’s a passion and I’m willing to prioritize it over other activities.

    • For me, writing is a bit of catharsis. Helping other people while doing it only adds to the joy it brings me.

      It doesn’t feel like extra work. It feels like a hobby that I really love. I’ve never felt like it adds to my burden.

  8. Keep up the great work.
    I was getting there (maybe Crispy?) but didn’t realize it until I cut back and felt so much better.
    I share your passion for writing, teaching, and the importance of FI.

  9. ‘Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity. Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.’

    Any physician who does not recognize this quotation ought be cautious is their own priorities.

    It’s been said that the ability to observe yourself from outside yourself, is the highest form of intelligence. Is this the essence of reason; intellect of its highest design? Ignorance is not lack of knowledge, it’s the lack of effort to understand, and therefore a surrender of your freedom and responsibility. Striving for self realization and self knowledge sets the stage for personal responsibility and freedom- freedom to change.

    Change is the only certainty. Change is life. Change is power -power to grow. Never give your power away. Subjugating primarily to the needs of others rewards you with discomfort, distress, disappointment and dependence. So, as Corporate health care strips you of the opportunity to learn, change and grow in your practice, and political quacks convince people that they need not participate in their own wellbeing while demanding that you accept duty to their self-inflicted ills, be certain to understand the difference and draw a bold line between compassion and empathy.

    Compassion allows growth; empathy kills. The difference lies within you to save someone vs. trying to help someone. Use compassion to allow the pain of others to flow through you; to build strength and understanding. The pain of others is not yours to hold -you can’t take another’s pain and save them agony. Our culture is eating its tail and the more you empathize with, and harbor the pain of those who are destroying themselves, the more you become like them, gradually losing your way in the haze of altruism.

    Stop focusing of what you want to become, and begin realizing who you want to be. Seek out help from others in all the fragile moments that come together to shape your life. Your ‘Truth’ is action; a search; an inquiry or scrutiny, not an endpoint. Let truth be your motivation and you will find peace, even within Corporate predatory medicine. There is always light when you keep interest outside yourself because it is only through learning and knowing others that we come to understand ourselves. And, it is your own suffering that gives measure to your power to heal.Then be grateful you have this opportunity.

    ‘Getting older doesnt make you more wise, it makes you more careful’.

  10. Please be careful with comparisons to the military.

    While there are some similarities, I suspect most physicians do not fear for their life or their battle buddies 24/7 for months on end. And I also doubt many physicians have actually been in combat or engaged in an actually firefight.

    There are some similarities and I can see how the comparisons may be attractive to write about.

    But as a combat vet with multiple tours and also a EM doc I can assure you it is very different. Even on the very worst day in the ED, it’s no where close to being in actual combat.

    It’s an important topic and good discussion

    • No intention to compare the two as much as to use a simile to prove a point. As a son, grandson, and great grandson of veterans – I have a tremendous amount of respect for the military. I meant no disrespect, if it was taken that way.

      And thank you for your service to our country.

      TPP

  11. I have already reached burnout and retired early at the age of 61, 3 years ago. I now have to get my own health insurance through Obamacare (which I never liked.) I feel like I am still recovering from PTSD from training and chronic lack of sleep from working all those years. I feel like I have abandoned the people I was going to help, but my soul isn’t in it anymore. I think if I write a book it may help. Young medical students need to learn how to prevent burnout before it happens to them. I am glad you are writing this blog.

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