Tired doctors? They’ve never had it better


From Dr. John Scherr, a retired Carolinas Healthcare System doctor, in response to “Why your doctor can’t see you, and why he’s so tired” (April 24 Dr. Carmen Teague op-ed):

I read Dr. Carmen Teague’s piece with amusement and was struck by the old saw, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

As a physician who retired early for health reasons, I heard echoes of those same voices complaining from all 35 years of my active practice. I remembered all the talk of physician burnout and threatened early retirement when I, too, first excitedly started my practice in 1982; at that time, it was HMOs and malpractice insurance premiums that were the chief complaints.

Being a physician is an emotionally taxing job, one that demands personal management of the stresses of illness and death every day. But the work-life balance of a primary care physician has never been better, especially for a physician working for a large corporation such as Carolinas Healthcare System.

Most primary care physicians 20 years ago not only had to take care of patients both in their office and in the hospital, but also had to function as the CEO of their small medical office. When I became a CHS-employed physician, I was glad to have the time-consuming burdens of payroll, personnel management, billing, purchasing, etc., relegated to CHS thus giving me more time to spend with my patients and family. Hospitalists employed by healthcare systems have made night and weekend hospital rounds and 2 a.m. emergency visits a thing of the past for primary care physicians, like Dr. Teague.

I strongly disagree with Dr. Teague regarding the worth of the electronic medical record. EMR is still in it’s infancy, but it’s time- and life-saving advantages are enormous. It’s impossible to calculate the hours I’ve saved by not having to struggle to read a consulting physician’s illegible handwriting, or having to search for last year’s lab results, or being able to view critical X-rays with a click of my mouse instead of tromping down to Radiology. If I have a patient with 10 prescriptions, I no longer have to hand-write them. With several more clicks of my magic mouse, prescriptions are created and instantly sent off to the pharmacy, which never has to call me to translate what I wrote. I seriously love the EMR, and you should, too. It’s made your care safer, quicker, clearer and infinitely better.

I agree with Dr. Teague that being a physician is stressful and subject to burnout. But it always has been, and unlike many other stressful jobs, a physician will always enjoy the benefits of having a stable, well-compensated and well-respected career that is filled with immense satisfaction. But, Dr. Teague, being a physician is a job, not a hobby, and all jobs come with some drudgery. After 34 years in practice, there are many things I would change, but my original choice to become a physician is not one of them.