Dr. Doug Flora, a successful oncologist, husband and father, describes his life as “professionally successful, but time-bankrupt.”
For 19 years, his personal life, needs and responsibilities have taken a backseat to patients. Hence, his modus operandi: “Ignore everything but work.”
“I’m at an 80-hour-a-week job that I have to fit into 60 hours, so that’s my traditional default,” he said.
Unfortunately, Dr. Flora’s story isn’t unique. He’s one of the millions of physicians struggling to achieve a balance between work and life. And this number is on the rise.
The Unspoken Causes of Physician Burnout
If there’s one thing physicians can agree on it’s that there is no one, universal cause of burnout. No single source for its complex constellation of symptoms.
One factor, however, that stands out as especially pressing, difficult to broach, but nonetheless essential to address, is the radical change our culture has undergone since the conception of our healthcare system. Namely, the shift in physicians’ domestic lives.
What we have all been left to grapple with is navigating an uncomfortable truth — our healthcare system was unknowingly built on the premise that physicians had full-time personal and domestic support at home. And that support selflessly managed doctors’ personal lives, while providers selflessly dedicated themselves to patients.
Today, most physicians don’t have the luxury of the personal support systems of past: the nuclear family with a traditional stay-at-home spouse, full-time assistants, live-in nannies and other types of domestic laborers. What we’ve come to find is that without new support systems in place, we’re inadvertently asking physicians to sacrifice their personal lives altogether.
Today, physicians are buckling under the weight of personal and professionally demands — this is especially true for female physicians who largely bear the greater burden for household responsibilities.
Dr. Flora relayed that even simple things like buying a birthday present for his wife had become overwhelming.
“My choice often comes down to seeing the dying cancer patient or getting a gift, and my wife always loses,” he said.
A Cost-Effective Solution
Last year Dr. Flora’s organization, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, incorporated a new benefit, physician concierge services, at a fraction of the cost of turnover. Within the first year of service the healthcare giant saw a 10 percentage point increase in physician engagement.
This year Dr. Flora’s wife finally received the gift she deserves.
“In my new life, I have a concierge to take care of the things I used to sacrifice in my personal life, and my life is better for it,” he said.