In 2016, Dr. Leif (PoF) decided to inspire his fellow physicians by starting a (mostly anonymous) blog about personal finance, and the Physician on FIRE was born. Two years later, PoF is a well-known physician financial blogger who also works part-time as an anesthesiologist. He admits that he knew nothing about blogging when he started Physician on FIRE, yet he has grown his blog's readership from a few dozen a day to a few thousands a day.
According to the Medscape National Physician Burnout & Depression Report 2018, finances are the second leading cause of physician depression. Sadly, one physician commits suicide every day in the United States. These startling statistics led us to find out the Physician on FIRE's perspective on burnout and what is causing our medical providers to feel so miserable, dreading to go to work or even to get out of bed.
One of the reasons PoF began blogging is because among high earning professionals, physicians are known for being the worst accumulators of wealth. Along with the stress of finances, burnout and depression are affecting physicians across all specialties, gender, and career stages. In the graph below from the Medscape 2018 report, you can see Critical Care is the specialty facing the most burnout at 48%, while Anesthesiology is ten percent lower on the spectrum at 38%.
The financial blogger contributes to the fight against burnout through writing articles on the topic, sharing guest blogs, and inspiring physicians who may be feeling stressed from their job or financial situation. Physician on FIRE is a platform for readers to engage with one another, creating a sense of community for physicians to know they are not alone in their feelings of anxiety, burnout, and depression. As an extension of the PoF's website, he also has more than 7,000 members and counting in the Physicians on FIRE Facebook group. I got a chance to sit down with the infamous physician finance blogger to learn about his perspective on physician burnout and his very unique talent.
At first, I was intimidated by the complex-looking machines and urgent manner in which things need to happen in the operating room. However, after taking my first elective rotation in the specialty, I realized it was all manageable and that the anesthesiologists seemed to be among the happier physicians I had met.
It's a career in which patients tend to appreciate the work that you do, and most of your patient encounters begin and end the same day. I don't take work home with me in a literal or psychological sense. Occasionally, I'm worried about the outcome of a critically ill patient, but most of our patients are in good shape by the time we leave the hospital.
I don't know where I'd rank it, but money problems are surprisingly prevalent among physicians. We may have high incomes, but we're so far behind our peers who may be ten years into their careers by the time we start ours. While we're trying to climb out of debt, we see high school and college friends becoming VPs in business and partners in law firms and we're trying to figure which student loan repayment program is best.
That can be depressing.
I've seen many a physician try to spend their way to happiness. Some spending does indeed bring us joy, but if we're just buying toys we don't have time to play with and we're not getting ahead financially, spending can be counterproductive to our happiness.
I don't think I fit the mental image I have of a burned out physician. However, when I read about the symptoms, it's hard to deny that I don't have a mild case. Compared to a dozen years ago when I was just getting started in my career, I am a bit more cynical and don't go home with the same satisfaction that I once did.
When I'm away from work for a few weeks at a time, as I am often now that I work part-time, I don't really miss it. I enjoy family time much more.
I don't know if it's getting better or worse, but I do believe it's becoming more readily recognized and OK to talk about. In my education and training, it was frowned upon to show any "sign of weakness," and I believe most of the signs and symptoms of physician burnout would have been considered exactly that -- a sign of weakness.
Now, it's become more acceptable to admit some of our frustrations. Burnout isn't a reflection of personal failure, but of a system that's failing physicians.
Know that life gets better on the other side of training where you'll have more autonomy. When you get there, focus on paying down debts and building wealth. Nothing gives you options in life like achieving financial independence.
An unexpected question. I know how to juggle, but that's not all that strange. I'll go with racewalking. I used to refuse to run, but my wife kept signing me up for races. I walked a 10k in under an hour and held a course record in a walking half-marathon for about 10 years until an Olympic-caliber racewalker shattered my time.
Physicians have been facing burnout and depression for a long time. Fortunately, "I have seen more attention paid to burnout and more steps being taken to address it. Now, we have resiliency workshops, burnout reduction efforts, and Chief Wellness Officers. These things were not commonplace five years ago; perhaps they're having an impact," Physician on FIRE says. Let's continue to shed light on this horrible issue. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a colleague who might be struggling with their job or personal life. If you or someone you know needs help addressing their financial stress, Spaugh Dameron Tenny, LLC can help. Subscribe to our newsletter!
Molly was the marketing director at SDT from October 2017 through November 2020. She is passionate about connecting with people, digital marketing, and serving her community.
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