This is the first in a series of articles on the four pillars of career satisfaction in hospital medicine.
How do you feel about the hours, compensation, responsibilities, and stresses of your present position? Do you think your job is sustainable—that is, would you be happy to continue your current work for years to come?
Many of today’s hospitalists might not answer the last question with a resounding “yes” because of one or more common factors that lead to chronic dissatisfaction with their careers.
In 2005, SHM formed the Career Satisfaction Task Force (CSTF) to combat this dissatisfaction, charging it with a three-pronged mission: to identify working conditions in hospital medicine that promote success and wellness; to provide resources to enhance career satisfaction; and to promote research into hospitalist career satisfaction and burnout.
“Originally, we were concerned with burnout in hospital medicine,” says CSTF co-chair Sylvia C. W. McKean, MD, FACP, medical director at Brigham and Women’s Hospital/Faulkner Hospitalist Service and associate professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston. “The task force was charged to examine the factors that lead to a long, satisfactory career in hospital medicine.”
New White Paper Available
After reviewing the literature on physician burnout and general career satisfaction, the CSTF created a comprehensive document, “A Challenge for a New Specialty: A White Paper on Hospitalist Career Satisfaction” (available at www.hospitalmedicine.org), which can be used by hospitalists and hospital medicine practices as a toolkit for improving or ensuring job satisfaction.
The white paper outlines the four pillars of career satisfaction: autonomy/control, workload/schedule, reward/recognition, and community/environment. It includes a Job Fit self-evaluation questionnaire and other tools and advice that can be used to gather information and take steps to improve problems identified by the survey.
While the information in the white paper can best be used to improve an entire hospital medicine program, individual hospitalists can also benefit from it. The paper clearly states that an individual hospitalist has the power to influence change within his or her job, perhaps by majority rule. They can find a niche of expertise within their practice; pursue continuing medical education opportunities to promote their areas of expertise; nurture networks with peers; and find a mentor and regularly seek advice.
The First Pillar: Autonomy/Control
Control, or autonomy, refers to the need to be able to affect the key factors that influence job performance. For example, do you have control over when, how, and how quickly you perform a specific task? Do you have some say in task assignment and policies? What about the availability of support staff, supplies, and materials?
“Doctors expect to have control in their jobs, control over the tasks they do, how and when they do those tasks,” says CSTF member Tosha Wetterneck, MD, University of Wisconsin Hospital/Clinics in Madison. “This control helps them cope with stress; take that control away, and they can’t cope as well.”
Autonomy is a problem in hospital medicine because the field is still new and not widely understood. Consequently, hospitalists may end up responsible for additional duties and hours—especially on weekends—that other physicians dump on them.
“In some hospitals, the only doctors who can’t cap [their workloads] are the hospitalists,” reports Dr. McKean.
The best way to ensure you’re comfortable with the autonomy offered by your position is to be aware of what you want—and what you get—when you take your job.
“An individual hospitalist always has a choice of taking a job with the clear understanding of what they’ll have control over,” says Dr. Wetterneck. “However, you have to understand what you as a person need to have control over. You don’t want to get yourself into a position where you don’t have control over the specific areas that matter the most to you.”