Gregory Misky, MD, describes it as a “deer in the headlights” moment. About four years ago, Dr. Misky, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, and Mark Reid, MD, assistant professor at Denver Health Medical Center, were trying to figure out what being an academic hospitalist was all about. What were the expectations of them, and how could they combine their clinical duties with scholarly work, especially given the significant lack of mentorship?
The duo wondered if other young hospitalists were feeling the same uncertainty about their chosen career, and whether there were any variables that might help predict success or burnout among their fellow doctors.
They haven’t been alone. Regardless of the practice model and location, physicians within the fastest-spreading medical specialty in the U.S. have noted both the promise and unsettled nature of HM. “We are still a relatively young profession, and I think over the past five to 10 years, we’ve been seeing the growing pains of the profession,” says Tosha Wetterneck, MD, MS, FACP, associate professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.
In response to mounting concerns over multiple career-satisfaction-related issues, SHM assembled a Career Satisfaction Task Force that produced a detailed white paper at the end of 2006 (available from the “White Papers” tab under the “Publications” heading at www.hospitalmedicine.org).
One tangible outcome of the paper was the establishment of “Four Pillars of Career Satisfaction” for hospitalists:
- Reward and recognition;
- Workload and schedule;
- Autonomy and control; and
- Community and environment.
The paper included definitions for each pillar, and assembled scorecards, action steps, tools, and recommendations for both HM leaders and individual hospitalists to help shore up perceived weak spots.
So how strong are those pillars in practice? If hospitalists are the future of healthcare, as SHM and other medical groups assert, what do current studies suggest about the prospects of HM solidifying into a satisfying and sustainable career choice?
One outgrowth of Dr. Misky and Dr. Reid’s frustration was a study in which they and their collaborators emailed a 61-question survey to hospitalists at 20 academic medical centers. Among the results, the researchers found that 75% of respondents reported either “high” or “somewhat high” satisfaction with their current job. At the same time, though, 67% felt “high” or “somewhat high” stress levels at work, and nearly 1 in 4 (24%) reported some degree of burnout, based on their own definition of the word.1
As one of the first hospitalists in his group, Dr. Misky recalls the stress he felt over whether the hospital, division, and department would all buy into the idea of an academic hospitalist, and what his role would be. “I think we spent a lot of our early years trying to carve out our niche and proving ourselves and trying to balance the clinical needs that people had for us with other expectations of being an academic,” he says. Dr. Misky likens the experience to the adrenaline rush of mountain-biking straight down a hill. The feeling that too many things are going on at once, though, might also partially explain the apparent dichotomy of high overall satisfaction but a worrisome degree of burnout.
The profession hasn’t been around long enough for good longitudinal studies, and surveys have worded questions on satisfaction and burnout in different ways, complicating attempts at direct comparisons over time. A 2001 study, for example, reported that 12.9% of community and academic hospitalists were burned out, with another 25% at risk, but the survey was limited to dues-paying members of the National Association of Inpatient Physicians, the precursor to SHM.2