Physicians Inch Toward Boiling Point

Joe Cantlupe, October 4, 2012

So, six out of 10 of you docs want to quit. Turn out the lights. Lock the door. Goodbye.

Walker Ray, MD, remembers his feelings when he shut down his Georgia pediatric practice, for good, after 35 years, and why he had to leave it behind: The 60-hour work weeks. The rolling tide of reduced reimbursements. The missed family gatherings, "the ballet recitals, the swim meets, even the funerals." Then the questions from his kids: "Dad, how long are you going to keep doing this?"

"You look in the mirror…" Ray told me, recalling that moment of self-realization. "I packed it in." 

Ray blames an oppressive regulatory and business climate. "At first, I thought it was only me having this problem. It wasn't," he says. Now, Ray takes doctors' pulse, trying to gauge their feelings about their practices.

Their professional heart rates are elevated. It seems they are feeling the same way he did.  Now, Ray is vice president of the Physicians Foundation, which commissioned an extensive survey of nearly 13,575 physicians. The result? Six out of 10 want out. Meritt Hawkins, the physician search and consulting firm, conducted the survey.

The survey found that 60% of physicians would retire today, if given the opportunity—an increase from 45% in 2008. And it's not just disgruntled and tired Baby Boomers who want to abandon their healing work. At least 47% of physicians under 40 also said they would retire today, if given the opportunity.

The numbers tell the story: Physicians in droves want to leave their practices. We keep hearing that. Now what are we doing about it? 

The key is to start by focusing on the major problem areas. Ray says the survey points to two specific issues above all others–malpractice concerns, and the lack of a cohesive voice among all physician groups.

Joe Cantlupe Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.Twitter

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