'It has gotten worse for all of us': Why some doctors flee medicine

Even as the United States faces a looming physician shortage, administrative burdens are driving some established physicians to leave the medical profession, Nicole Spector reports for NBC News.

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The looming shortage

The Association of American Medical Colleges projects the United States will be short 42,600 to 121,300 physicians by 2030.

With an eye to the future, some medical schools are taking steps to diversify and bolster the physician workforce. New York University Medical School, for instance, recently announced it would waive medical school tuition. However, efforts such as these won't necessarily alleviate the pressures that are driving some physicians to leave, Spector reports.

Why do doctors leave medicine?

Some doctors—especially those who are older—have cited electronic health records (EHR) as the reason why they want to leave the profession, Spector writes. Research from Stanford Medicine conducted by The Harris Poll found 59% of doctors believe EHRs "need a complete overhaul," and 40% say EHRs have "more challenges … than benefits."

There's also a segment of the population who leave medicine simply because they don't enjoy the job anymore, Spector writes. Amy Baxter, a former pediatric emergency doctor, said she left medicine because she "began to feel like an easily replaceable cog in the health care machine."

Baxter said, "With the [enforcement] of EHRs, I had to spend more time as a scribe. One night a child I was treating had a seizure, and I couldn't get the medicine to enable them to breathe because their chart wasn't in the system yet. This kid was fixing to die and I, the doctor, couldn't get the medicine. It was demoralizing."

Baxter now runs a company that develops personal pain management products.

Similarly, Ha-Neul Seo, a former general practitioner in the United Kingdom who is now the director of global recruitment at EF Education First in London, said she left medicine because the profession proved to be more tedious than she'd imagined.

"As a patient you want your doctor to love and be passionate about their work—and I realized that wasn't me," she said. "Some parts were incredible, but the moments when I felt I was making a true difference were too few and far between." She added that the work-life balance was difficult on her as well. "I had my first child and was barely seeing him," she said. "The schedule was relentless."

Nicole Swiner a physician and author, hasn't left medicine herself, but she said she understands those who do. "It has gotten worse for all of us, unfortunately—whether you work in the hospital or in the outpatient setting," she said (Spector, NBC News, 8/18).

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