Nor has it been easy to compare hospitalist satisfaction and burnout levels to those of other specialists. “We haven’t really defined what a sustained, long-term career in hospital medicine is going to be,” Dr. Wetterneck says. “And in that way, it’s hard to say, ‘Compared to other professions, are we happier or not?’”
One of her recent studies, however, generally agrees with the handful of surveys addressing satisfaction and burnout among hospitalists. Overall, 63% of respondents reported high satisfaction with their job, while 69% were highly satisfied with their specialty. Roughly 30%, however, also reported feeling symptom of job burnout.3
Kelki Hinami, MD, MS, assistant of professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a coauthor of the study, says one take-home message is that hospitalists do fairly well in finding jobs that match their individual needs. “To further illustrate this, we found that hospitalists working in various practice models have different ideas about what is most important to their job,” he says.
Autonomy, for example, is considered most important by more local group hospitalists than by those of any other model, while recognition by leaders and having a variety of tasks at work are particularly important to academic hospitalists. Unlike other hospitalists, however, fewer academics consider pay to be the most important job characteristic.
A third study, led by John Yoon, MD, assistant professor in the section of hospital medicine at the University of Chicago, has examined career satisfaction, burnout, and morale among primary-care physicians (PCPs) and hospitalists. So far, the results he reported at HM11 largely agree with the other recent surveys: Combined, 85% of hospitalists report being either somewhat or very satisfied with their overall career. Conversely, 24% of hospitalists regretted choosing medicine as a career and 38% say they would have chosen a different medical specialty if they had to do it over again.4
Dr. Yoon says his data, compiled from two survey samples of about 1,000 generalists each, have revealed few differences between hospitalists and PCPs. “I thought hospitalists would be more satisfied than primary-care physicians, given the declining satisfaction rates of PCPs that we know about, and that students and trainees are less likely to go into primary care,” he says. Even burnout rates are similar, however; Dr. Yoon says he’s noticed a trend toward hospitalists reporting less burnout than PCPs, but the difference is not yet statistically significant.
Choice of a New Generation?
HM’s attractiveness to medical residents offers other clues about its ability to provide a sustainable and satisfying career choice. Salary, part of the “reward and recognition” pillar, has long been one perceived weakness. Anecdotally, however, Dr. Yoon says many general medicine residents see HM as a better financial option than primary care. “Some of the residents I work with, when I asked them, ‘Will you be a primary-care physician or a hospitalist?’ a lot of them say, ‘Probably hospitalist,’” he says. “And generally the reason is because they have to pay off their debt.”
It’s true that hospitalists’ salaries lag behind that of most of other specialists. Nevertheless, researchers like Colin West, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and biostatistics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., say many medical residents are prioritizing financial considerations as relatively low on the scale of general preferences.
One loss I’m starting to feel keenly as an academic hospitalist … really is the loss of having long-term relationships with patients. My clinical encounters with patients these days as a hospitalist are very intense, but also very brief.
—John Yoon, MD, assistant professor, section of hospital medicine, University of Chicago