Physician Burnout - My Path

Written by
Michael Cumming, MD, MBA

Professional burnout is characterized by cynical behavior, exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm, and loss of professional effectiveness.  Burnout is seen across the workforce but is unfortunately increasing in physicians and is now more common in medical doctors than most other professionals. 


The causes are multifactorial.  Without question, physicians must take some responsible themselves for managing their profession career and achieve a healthy work life balance.  However, increasingly, we are experiencing forces outside of our sphere of influence resulting in a feeling of loss control, an unrewarding work environment and loss of professional satisfaction.  Every day we face pressures that are destroying the patient physician relationship: increasing administrative burdens, endless corporate and hospital bureaucracy that is only interested in their self-preservation, hostile insurance companies that know better, and various attempts to measure what we do in the pursuit of "value".


We are seeing burnout rates approaching 50% because the meaning of what we do is being eroded, belittled, and marginalized.


In my own career, as my medical group failed financially, I had the choice to become a "salaried" employee or to break out on my own.  I did not spend 16 years going through undergraduate sciences, medical school, internship, residency, fellowship and eventually an MBA to be a commodity producer in a so called health care "system".


In the end, I decided to break out on my own and to open an outpatient endovascular center in partnership with Center for Diagnostic Imaging.  Starting from scratch in September 2012, we built a comprehensive outpatient vascular center, the first of its kind in the Mid-West.  Now, four and half years later, we continue grow expanding our services across the Twin Cities. It was not easy.  We live a very consolidated market place, dominated by a few health care systems, essentially an oligopoly more interested controlling "leakage" and "seepage" rather them competing on providing true value to the stakeholders, our patients. 


Without question, the last 4 years of my career have been the most rewarding.  I spend more time doing what I love in an environment where I have considerable input and control.  I can provide my staff with a rewarding and engaging workplace and enable them to be their best.  For my patients, I can offer them a highly personalized best in class service that puts their needs first.  It's no panacea.  I certainly work more hours than before but I enjoy it because the product is something that I helped shape.  I face constant challenges in terms of regulatory change, consolidation, narrow insurance networks and denials, unreasonable prior authorizations and declining reimbursements.  It can be a struggle.


Physicians are some of the most intelligent and highly trained professionals in the work force and most of don’t do well as a salaried commodity product.  While at times I feel tired and stressed, I look forward every day to going to work, doing what I love, with people that I enjoy being with.  As an independent physician, the feeling of being "burned out" has gone away.

 Addressing Physician Burnout


Physician Burnout: It keeps getting worse

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