Learning to Practice Medicine on My Terms
I’m curious to know if your training looked like mine in regards to your future medical practice. We learned there are two ways to practice medicine – as an academician or as a private practice physician. I trained at a community program, so the guidance was biased towards private practices, and my goal at the end of residency was to join an established group and serve my community as the best obstetrician/gynecologist I could be.
For me, it was part of the prescribed pathway to being a physician, directing me as early on as when I was a premed student. Work hard to get into a good college. Now, work hard to get into medical school, etc. It made sense. After completing residency, I couldn’t imagine that before the decade would end, I would find myself searching for something new.
Everything changed for me in 2012. I was part of a busy, successful practice with kind and caring partners, and it should have been wonderful, but it wasn’t for me. At the time, I didn’t have words to describe what was going on; all I could tell you was that I was exhausted. I didn’t enjoy my work, and when I reflected on my days, I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I knew I needed to make a change, but I didn’t know what or how.
It took almost everything I had to turn things around. I almost left medicine, but I didn’t know what I would do, and I couldn’t be without an income for more than a few months, so I transitioned to a position that helped me create boundaries and work/life balance. I found a way to practice medicine on my terms, and I am still practicing as an OB/Gyn hospitalist almost 10 years later.
As a result, I’ve learned a few things that weren’t taught in school or in residency. I became a life coach so that I can help others who are struggling like I was. I can see the stress in my colleagues’ eyes, but I know from experience: when you are in the thick of it, you just can’t see it. Physicians are naturally hard workers. We know how to put in long hours, and we’ve been successful because of it. For me, the busier I got, the more I worked. My values got lost in that work, and until I stopped, took inventory, and made some changes, I was miserable.
Here’s what I wish I learned about myself earlier in my career – I gain my energy through my time alone. I need strict delineations between time working and time off. I need very clear boundaries. I rediscovered my values, including the values of creativity and growth. I made time to learn and improve hobbies and time to create. As I’ve worked with clients, I’ve learned a few lessons about medicine. First, everyone deserves to practice medicine on their terms. Second, everyone’s terms are different. Last, there are multiple ways to practice medicine, and one way is not better than another.
Here are a few actionable items you can incorporate for yourself, remembering that YOU are the expert, both regarding your field of medicine and regarding what you need for a successful career. You do not have to follow a prescribed path. You can influence your patient panel and see more patients with conditions you are passionate about treating. You’ll be a better doctor for your patients and more satisfied in the long run. Your dream career won’t emerge overnight; it will take work, but it can be done!
First, identify and get to know your referral base. Go out and meet other doctors in your area; both the doctors who will refer to you and those to whom you will refer patients. Get to know their staff. When you introduce yourself, make sure you share what type of patients you’d like to see. An easy way to incorporate this into your conversation could be:
“I specialize in the nonpharmacologic management of obesity,”
“In my practice, we take care of women who are perimenopausal and menopausal.”
Make sure the office has plenty of business cards, and if there’s a referral process, make it easy!
Second, include in your marketing campaigns the diseases that you are passionate about treating. Your business card is your most important marketing tool. Can you add a statement on the back of your card? For example:
“Specializing in minimally invasive surgery”
Another marketing tool is your website. Most websites include information on the physician, including their areas of practice and/or what they are passionate about in medicine. Use this to your advantage.
Another way to use your website is to write a blog post for your practice regarding an interesting topic. So, a family physician who likes sports medicine may write articles about common sports injuries in high school students.
A final low-cost marketing idea is to send a letter to your referral base (once this is well established) when you celebrate a milestone or when you attend a conference that highlights your expertise.
The last action item is to get your patients talking. When you make a meaningful connection with a patient or when they compliment your care, ask them to complete a Google review or a review on your practice website. You can even purchase a cheap tablet to have them do this before they leave the exam room. Imagine how positive reviews will enhance your practice both in the number of patients you see and in the type of patients seen.
My sincerest wish for you, and for all physicians, is to practice medicine in a way that brings you joy and satisfaction. I hope this article helps you customize your clinical practice. Remember, YOU are the expert, and with a little work, you can do more of what you love (and less of what you don’t).