10 Happiness Factors That Can Help Reverse the Burnout Epidemic

Professional dissatisfaction among doctors is the major issue of our time. Left unaddressed, the issue has the potential to wreck the medical profession.

“Wisdom is the supreme part of happiness.”—Sophocles

This “unhappy physician” issue certainly has legs. Survey after survey shows that practicing physicians across the nation are experiencing professional burnout. If the latest analysis by the Studer Group is accurate, then the problem has reached a crisis level—90% of physicians admit to experiencing symptoms of burnout at some point in their career.

The survey also found that nearly two out of three doctors “say they sometimes consider leaving medicine” and over 50% think leaders in medicine “are not actively taking steps to prevent burnout.”

Professional dissatisfaction among doctors is the major issue of our time. Among the words used to describe the professional state of America’s doctors are: “exhausted, dissatisfied, discouraged, helpless, and hopeless.” Left unaddressed, the issue has the potential to wreck the medical profession.

Today’s doctors must cultivate the right outlook to flourish again and maybe there’s some hope rooted in the work and life of one physician I knew so well—my father. Medicine has certainly changed since by dad’s doctoring days but human nature has not. Success is still mostly having the right attitude.

Somehow I feel dad was the “every doctor.” His physician’s life story and philosophy transcends time. He represents the best of the medical profession; and what it can be again. In following his medical career, I have come to the conclusion that the things my father did right and the things he did wrong are what physicians want and need to hear about. Now more than ever.

America’s physicians must find a deeper well-being. They’re too important to be left resigned to a lifetime of professional unhappiness. Granted my dad prospered during the glory years of medical practice (the latter half of the 20th Century)—when doctors held near God status—but his outlook on life and work still have meaning and application today.

Here are some of his happiness factors:

1. Healing Hands — Many patients say today’s physician has become too technical. Their touch is gone, replaced by a computer. Doctors must reconnect with patients. My father was just masterful here—virtually willing people to get better. This is the essence of doctoring.

2. Professional Pride — Today’s medical profession desperately needs a vocal advocate. “Medicine is the highest calling,” is a proud banner. It’s worthy of defense. My still all-time favorite response to those critical of doctors is my dad’s: “We save lives every day, what have you done lately?”

3. Physicians Friends — It’s doubtful that my father would have had his successes absent the superb relationship he had with fellow doctors. He was good at making MD friends and across all medical specialties—nice for business too. What he did with them, and they for each other, is personally and professionally resilient.

4. Painful Lessons — Doctors must deal with life and death every day, but on this epic matter my father was especially in tune with his patients. He knew loss and pain better than most. This is key—because out of tragedy comes wisdom. Today’s doctor need a strong dose here.

5. Motion Sensitive — The best thing for unhappiness is activity. Dad loved to stimulant mind and body. The sheer depth and breadth of his life doings is an amazing guidebook. This helped him deal with the challenges that physicians will always face.

6. Family Support — We all have it. Life fulfilling and transforming, good blood can make or break an individual. Upbeat stories articulated with purpose are something that today’s doctors surely hunger for. I was born into a medical family so the entertaining and educational history is rich.

7. Community Committed — There is a serious need for doctors to become more visible and vibrant members of their community. There are many ways to do this. Dad did well here and there’s no question it helped his reputation and his business.

8. Ready Escape — If a doctor can’t learn to take his/her mind off the pressures of medicine, they are doomed professionally. To keep that suit of amour intact, doctors must learn to have fun—separate work from life. The easy part, as my father proved, is finding things to do.

9. Team Care — Success in medical care is about people. From his office staff to the way he presented himself to others, my father projected a confidence and competence around patients. He was a MD model. Generations of families saw him for a reason—he make a difference in their lives.

10. Lifetime Student — Once you stop learning you stop living. Doctors as a group continue to have the highest IQs—most are gifted, all are eager to learn. Challenge your mind and there’s no limit to growth—as a physician and as a person.