Thinking and rethinking ophthalmology: Are you?

Digital Edition, Ophthalmology Times: December 2020, Volume 45, Issue 20

Pandemic forces some to reconsider careers.


My friend and
loyal Ophthalmology Times® reader, Sergio, recently sent me a report on a survey of almost 1300 physicians with the headline “Nearly half of doctors are ‘seriously’ rethinking their careers, finds COVID-19 survey.”

The article begins with data from the CDC to the effect that 1 in 16 Americans (5.9%) infected to date with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a healthcare worker.

This rethinking is most common amongst primary care doctors, with 50% of internists and 55% of family physicians described as such.

“Just what the heck is ‘rethinking’” you ask? According to the surveyors, it can mean anything from tweaking your practice to throwing in the towel. The results show:

> 9% of doctors say they are going to retire.

> 8% will “leave patient care.”

> 6% will “quit medicine and start a new career.”

> 3% will “Close practice for good.”

I find the survey results a tad confusing. The categories strike me as overlapping or poorly defined.

For example, what is the difference between retiring and closing your practice for good? What is the difference between leaving patient care and quitting medicine and starting a new career? Are some of these people going to become hospital administrators or work in the pharmaceutical industry?

Previously by Dr. McDonnell: Planning is important — even when “nobody knows nothing”

If so, they would not be retired, rather they would still be in medicine but no longer caring for patients. Will they be one of those characters who spend their days writing editorials in medical publications instead of doing something that contributes to society?

Whatever the details, the authors concludes that if all these doctors quit clinical practice, the loss of such a large chunk of the medical workforce (9% + 8% + 6% + 3% = 26%) would leave the rest of us doctors overwhelmed.

But with these surveys, as with the polls before Presidential elections these days, you never know.

On a positive note, 49% of responding physicians say they plan to make no significant changes and others plan to “change the practice setting.”

One hospitalist from Iowa, rather than bemoaning his job during the pandemic, said this in the survey: “It has actually galvanized me. I think I am privileged to provide inpatient medicine at just the moment in history when the need is so great.”

Certainly we have known from the earliest days of the pandemic—when Dr. Li Wenliang died in Wuhan, China after first reporting the outbreak—that ophthalmologists are at risk from the disease. Will that translate into a fear that leads many of us to quit medicine?

The word “ophthalmologist” doesn’t appear anywhere in the article and there is no breakdown by subspecialty, but I am not seeing or hearing of a mad rush for the exits by my ophthalmologist colleagues. Ophthalmology Times® is going to perform a hopefully more valid survey of a large group of the smarter and best-looking ophthalmologists.

Are you, dear reader, planning to respond to COVID-19 by quitting the practice of medicine?

Are you rethinking your ophthalmic career?



Read more by editorials by Peter McDonnell

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