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Burnout and Entrepreneurship in Medicine

Last Updated: 27 December 2018

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Burnout in Medicine

Burnout in healthcare is fueling entrepreneurship among clinicians like never before. You already know that burnout in healthcare is a problem. In fact, it may be what led you here today.  

Healthcare has a PR problem when it comes to burnout. It causes talented clinicians to leave the bedside in search of something else. You may even be one of those folks considering leaving medicine for something else. All this turnover is expensive.

Maybe that's why leading medical organizations have been studying this phenomenon with increasing intensity over the years. Medscape's 2018 report on physician burnout found that 42 percent of physicians experienced burnout. The American Academy of PA's (AAPA) recently reported that more than 30 percent of PA's identified as ‘burned out overall' in 2018.

In both groups, emergency medicine practitioners were the most likely to report feelings of burnout. However, no specialty or group of healthcare professional is immune.   

The Solution

Admittedly, one might catch a hint of sample bias in these types of reports. However, this speaks to a larger point. Burnout is a ubiquitous problem in healthcare. Therefore, it is not a stretch to say burnout in healthcare is a public health concern.

This may be why clinicians today are more likely than ever to do something about it. Some of the most innovative companies in healthcare were started by a clinician dealing with some degree of burnout. 

That's why we are going to advocate for an unorthodox approach to fighting burnout in healthcare: doing more. Specifically, why starting your entrepreneurial journey may be the push you need in the right direction.

Our goal isn't to convince anyone to leave clinical practice. We do hope to convince you to use the skills you learned as a clinician to make healthcare a better place. Whether that's from the bedside or in a non-clinical role is for you to decide. 

We'll lay out seven ways we believe starting your own entrepreneurial venture can help strengthen your mental and financial health and help reduce your risk of burnout in healthcare.  

1. You Begin Working Towards Something Again

A major component of burnout in healthcare is feeling ‘stuck.’ In the clinical training period, there is always a project, test, or paper that you were just on the verge of finishing. You knew that once you passed that Next Thing, everything would be okay. 

There were also overarching ‘long-term' goals. The thought of advancing to the next year of training, to clinical rotations, and then to graduation kept you going. Life was structured into a series of manageable milestones. Your brain would take it upon itself to reward you for a job well-done each time you hit a milestone.

But crossing the finish line at graduation represents a major change in your life. Many clinicians remember going from a student who was starving because they had no money for lunch to a clinician who is starving because they have no time for lunch. That’s a bad example – the point is that now you can afford to buy lunch if you wanted.

The short-interval achievements are no longer so well-defined after graduation. Other life milestones (if we haven't missed them) feel extremely long-term by comparison. These require more incremental increases in personal development and self-reflection. And after going through the rigorous training healthcare demands, clinicians often have a hard time focusing on themselves.

Combine this sudden change with a uniquely stressful work environment and it’s easy to see why clinicians get burned out at a higher rate than the general population. As an entrepreneur, things are different. Suddenly, you are building something from scratch while you learn or use a new or additional skill set.

Regardless of the type of business you have, it helps to compartmentalize your projects into it into small, individual tasks. This helps you feel like you are working towards something with concrete milestones again.

2. You Improve Time Management Skills

When you have your own side projects – or your own business, especially – you quickly learn to make goals and milestones. Setting SMART (specific – manageable – attainable – relevant – time-specific) goals is a great way to break this down for day-to-day use. Luckily enough, clinicians are already exquisitely skilled in this area, probably because of this demanding training period mentioned above.

And if you think you already have mastered time management, wait until you work full-time and work on your business-related passions simultaneously.

Ironically, it may be the system that contributed to clinicians burnout that teaches some of them how to avoid it. For those who are seeking financial independence, decreased clinical hours, or to transition out of clinical practice, every action that nourishes their side-project or small business is a tangible step towards these larger goals.  

3. You Develop a Sense of Ownership

Along the same lines, any side project or freelance work you do has the potential to turn into its own business. Many clinicians are perfectly happy with an employed position, while others can only thrive in private practice or a commercial environment.

Because of the trend in healthcare is for gargantuan systems to employ physicians, PA's, pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and other clinicians directly, the sense of ownership of medicine has diminished for many practitioners. Additionally, clinicians may find their compensation is limited as an employee. It's relatively stable, sure, but limited nonetheless.

As an owner, the extra work you put in pays you dividends on the back end. This can be exponentially more valuable both on a financial and personal level. Because clinicians – in the United States, at least – pay dearly for their medical training, and then pay more for the interest they've accumulated on that education, starting a business can be a life-changing long-term plan. 

If you are looking for a life-changing short-term option, refinancing your high-interest student loans is a good place to start. Just be sure to do it before the Federal Reserve raises interest rates again, which is likely happening in June of 2018. Use our affiliate link here to get $300 back when you refinance with Laurel Road

Online Science Writing Course by Sanford University

4. You Regain Your Autonomy

Loss of autonomy can be a significant contributor to burnout and decreased job satisfaction. When you set your short-interval milestones and hone your already top-shelf time-management skills, you create your own autonomous work environment.

Choosing to work on your side hustle, passion project, or business is just that – a choice. Want to work into the night and over the weekend? Up to you. Want to take a break for six months? Nobody is stopping you – though I would not recommend either.

5. You Supplement Your Clinical Income

In general, clinical work is well-paying. Working an extra shift, chasing a few more RVU’s, or taking on a second job are attractive options for many entrepreneurial clinicians. However, I believe that increasing a substantially similar workload for monetary gain would likely increase your risk of burnout and frustration.

Not only can your side project generate extra income without sacrificing your sanity, but as we've already established, it can grow into something more. Working an extra shift just trades your time for a buck. With your own business or side project, the financial value is not necessarily time-dependent.

The unicorns of the startup world are the best example of this. Of course, the chances of any startup surpassing a $1 billion valuation are slim, but the point remains. By nurturing your idea into something that helps a large group of people, it can return the favor by helping you pay the bills.  

6. You Find Something (Else) to Look Forward To

Most of us look forward to seeing patients and helping people. We don’t look forward to the paperwork or bureaucratic barriers that come with it. We look forward to seeing our families at the end of the day, most of all. But if you find yourself with some time after everyone has gone to sleep or (if you are a pathologically early riser, like me) before anyone wakes up, you have something that you are passionate about waiting for you. 

On a personal note, I always look forward to my time writing. Whether I spend a few minutes when I get home or I have to wait until an off-call weekend, I look forward it every day. I’ve written dozens of articles that I’ll probably never publish, but the act of writing itself seems to help bring closure to a stressful day. 

Another characteristic of burnout is a sense of dread for your upcoming responsibilities. Knowing you have something that brings you joy to work on in your spare time, lets you know there will always be a light at the end of the day’s tunnel.

Medical writing on a typewriter with a golden pineapple
How I Feel Charting in the Electronic Medical Record

7. You Learn (Even More) Valuable Skills

Think of an area or task in which you consider yourself skilled. Chances are good that whatever that is, you find it enjoyable. People take up exercising, sports, baking, and art because they enjoy them. They stick with the ones they like because they feel they have a certain level of skill, which makes it fun.

Learning new skills can help you regain your love for medicine by helping you express it in other ways. As a clinically-practicing neurosurgery PA-C, I have built a business by delivering quality editorial products and services to medical education companies, by learning how to record and produce a podcast, and by continuing to refine these skills. You can learn this too, and even turn it into a profit center for yourself should you have the desire and drive. 

Your business, side hustle, or passion project might just do the same for you.

You Might Also Like:

4 Effective Ways to Stretch Your CME Fund Farther Than You Ever Imagined

Bonus! Ready to Learn More?

We've put together some of the most popular online courses to help you learn the skills you need to start your own business.

If you are able to do it on your own, then great! But if you are like us and can use a refresher, try one of these out:

Excited to explore a non-clinical side business you can start this week but aren't sure where to start? Read our posts on non-clinical side hustles here (part I) and here (part II). Or if you are ready to start one now, visit Teachable to learn how to create your first profitable online course. 

And if you like what you just read, please subscribe to our blog so that you never miss another post like this one!

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