Early in life we all have to choose which of the seven dwarfs we want to be.  Most of us physicians, for mostly altruistic reasons, chose to be Doc.  But it turns out that many of us instead ended up being Grumpy.

A survey of twelve thousand U.S. physicians released this week by the Physician’s Foundation paints a grim picture of our morale, and it received a lot of press.  78% of physicians believe that there is a shortage of primary care doctors today.  49% of doctors said that they were planning to shrink their practice or retire entirely in the next few years.  60% of doctors would not recommend medicine as a career to students.  94% said they were spending more time with non-clinical paperwork than a few years ago and 63% said this caused them to spend less time with patients.  (You can read more of the results by following the link below.)

Now, we should keep in mind that the Physician’s Foundation is basically a doctors’ grievance group which exists to get more money out of insurers, so they’re as likely to publish a study saying doctors are happy as an oil industry lobby is to declare that we have enough energy.  So we should take these results with a big grain of salt.  But, still, the overall picture isn’t encouraging.

My advice to patients is to make sure you have a primary care doctor now.  If you wait until you’re sick, the doctor you were hoping to see may be out of practice or may be full.

My advice to physicians is to reclaim your autonomy.  If you’re working too hard, work less.  If you’re making too little, drop your contract with the insurer paying you least.  If you’ve reached the point that you hate what you do or are losing money doing it, do yourself and your patients a favor and retire or change careers.  Physician unity isn’t going to help us.  (Note well the fate of the UAW.)  Our only hope lies in physician independence, excellence, and love of our work.

We have to demonstrate to today’s students that we can be Doc and also be Happy.

Learn more:

USA Today article: Primary care doctors in short supply

LA Times Booster Shots: Docs aren’t happy, and if docs aren’t happy …

Survey results from The Physician’s Foundation

My post about the coming primary care shortage: Will Primary Care Survive?