Wanted. Part-time. Private practice seeks obstetrician and gynecologist. Forty hours a week, some nights and weekends. Pretax income $70k/yr and falling. Life-altering medical malpractice claims average only 1/3 years. Electronic medical record – partially functioning. Administrative skills required. Medicare, Medicaid, self-pay, and dozens of insurance plans accepted – billing, coding and prescribing proficiency needed for above plans. Keep up with this ever-changing medical field and all technical skills on your time. $80k exit fee due at termination of employment. Expect childcare expense approaching $35k/yr. Fortunately, I vacated the above position before the required $80k in malpractice tail coverage took effect. Unfortunately for all of us, many female obstetricians are forced to make the same choices. In my practice alone, five of nine female partners elected to retire within the past two years. I left the practice after only three years when my inability to balance work and family life became obvious. I was clearing less than $20k a year – and money wasn’t even the biggest problem. Clearly, my case is only one example; my concern is that it is not the only example, but a nationwide trend for women in private obstetrical practices.
Much has been said about physicians and the part their greed plays in the current health care crisis. Admittedly, many examples can be found of physicians who have milked the system, over-billed, over-treated, and committed outright insurance fraud in order to make more money. On the other hand, some physicians have been praised for their utter selflessness, physicians who devote all of their time and resources to charitable care.
Most, myself included, do not fit the description of either extreme. Like many Americans, we want to excel professionally, enjoy our work, have others appreciate the contributions we make, and raise our families comfortably. As a physician, I would have been happy with my salary minus the bureaucratic nightmare the practice of medicine has become, the constant threat of catastrophic legal action, the ingratitude, and the long hours away from my young children. Some physicians long for the honor that once accompanied the profession. Others miss the joy associated with personal doctor-patient relationships. Still others enjoy their work, but also want to enjoy their families. Money is not always the bottom line.
My current job – wife, mother of three small children, new author of the book, The Rise and Fall of Dr. Mom: Women, the Health Care Crisis, and the Future, and advocate for health care reform – doesn’t generate any income, but the benefits are better. I hope to be a part of needed change in our health care system simply by telling my story. The compensation is not important; the fact that I can enjoy and am proud of what I am doing is. We can raise awareness by examining the effects the system has on individual doctors, patients, and communities.
We all depend on our physicians to provide quality medical care, to take our lives into their hands. If for no other reason, should we strive towards health care reform so we can restore their job satisfaction? Do we not want them to be happy when they are guarding our lives? Do we not want the best and the brightest to continue to sign up for careers in medicine? And how much should they earn anyway?
In my opinion, reform will be required in order to retain a qualified, diverse pool of primary care obstetricians and gynecologists for women across the country. Such reform must include medical malpractice reform, as current rates make the cost of less than fulltime practice prohibitive. Changes in the training of obstetricians and gynecologists could be made to allow for women to focus on either obstetrics or gynecology, thus improving their odds of being able to keep abreast of changes in practice patterns. Finally, the enactment of a national health care plan with health care coverage for all would reduce the administrative costs and barriers to practice and improve physician job satisfaction.