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Why are so many doctors pessimistic about the future of medicine?

Doctors have a lot of reasons to be positive — they get to spend their time healing others, in a profession that is generally well-respected and well-paying. But even physicians are susceptible to disillusionment, as a recent white paper from Leavitt Partners demonstrates.

The paper, “Examining Pessimism Among Physicians” shows results of a nationwide survey of more than 600 physicians about their outlook on the practice of medicine. They found that physicians were split in their feelings about their profession; 41% of physicians were somewhat or very optimistic while 38% were somewhat or very pessimistic. The rest were “neutral.” 

What makes some physicians more optimistic or pessimistic about medicine than others?

What makes some physicians more optimistic or pessimistic about medicine than others? There aren’t that many differences, researchers found. Physicians that were pessimistic did not differ significantly by specialty, location, gender, or patient population compared to the overall sample. Pessimism among doctors appears to be widespread, not contained within a certain specialty or region.

But they did find a few key differences between optimistic and pessimistic doctors. Physicians who were dissatisfied with their electronic medical record system were more likely to have a negative outlook on medicine. Physicians working in private practice rather than in a hospital or health system were also more likely to be pessimistic; this could be due to less financial stability and more administrative burden compared to physicians in group practice.

Physicians who were dissatisfied with their electronic medical record system were more likely to have a negative outlook on medicine.

The link between EMR dissatisfaction and pessimism echoes previous feedback from clinicians that filling out EMRs takes an inordinate amount of time and makes it harder to care for their patients. The frustrating inoperability means that clinicians are often faxing medical records from one place to another, instead of simply sending a picture or document instantly, like their peers in other professions do every day. 

Another interesting difference in the data: It appears that the new generation of doctors is much more optimistic than their more experienced cohort. Among doctors who have been practicing for five years or less, only 21% were pessimistic about the practice of medicine, compared to 48% of doctors practicing for 31-40 years and 62% of doctors practicing for 41 years or more. Is this because younger doctors have not had the chance to be discouraged by the realities of the system, or because this new generation brings a new idealism and desire to change the system? Let’s hope it’s the latter.