Burnout? Who, me?

I attended a conference recently where the guest speaker talked of burnout among physicians. She reported a study that found emergency medicine specialists had the highest burnout rate among physician specialties, an astonishing 60 percent. I stood and told her in my forty-one years of experience as an emergency physician practitioner, I’d known very few colleagues who chose to quit the field, and in fact, most of them enjoy the heck out of it until they decide to retire. 

I love being an emergency physician – always have.  The moment I stepped into Houston’s Hermann Hospital’s emergency room as a second-year medical student, I knew I’d found my specialty.

The adrenaline pumping excitement of a gun-shot-wound, the diagnostic dilemma of an elderly patient with abdominal pain, or the pathos of a sick child inspired me. I chose the best specialty in medicine and the best job in the world.  What could be better than saving a life? And not just occasionally, but, by golly, several times a day.

Emergency medicine barely had its foot on the ground when I started, grandfathering in after my family medicine residency.  We took over from family physicians who had been forced to provide “on-call” coverage based on a calendar.  We were welcomed enthusiastically.

The advantages of emergency medicine begin with its great working hours. Sure, we work night shifts, holidays, and weekends.  But we know when we’ll start, when we’ll finish, never be called in unexpectedly, and can easily plan vacations.&nbsp

When I started at my current hospital, sixteen-years-ago at fifty-years-of-age, I was one of the younger physicians.  I’ve now seen five of the original eight leave the practice, all moving to clinic work.  Of these five, two moved in their low 60s, and the other three worked the ER until age 68. Clearly burn-out didn’t limit their careers.

Is there an ER doctor personality?  Me?  I’m all in for ADHD.  At sixty-five-years-old, I still enjoy my 12-hour shifts with my EMR on a portable computer.  Every moment is a highlight, from playing peek-a-boo with the babies, sticking in chest tubes in the trauma bay, or laying on a sympathetic hand to those suffering the unjust indignity of cancer.

Burnout?  I don’t think so. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my time.

Philip L. Levin, MD President, Mississippi Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians

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