Does Happiness = Acceptance? The Key Question for Today's Physician

Greg A. Hood, MD

Disclosures

December 02, 2015

In This Article

It Beats the Alternative

Frequently in the examination room, the subject of aging will come up. In a wry bit of humor, people will often quip that getting older is "better than the alternative." As The Economist article describes, "Stiffening joints, weakening muscles, fading eyesight and the clouding of memory, coupled with the modern world's careless contempt for the old, seem a fearful prospect—better than death, perhaps, but not much."

This concise analysis isn't the final word, however. If it was, then most fields of medicine would be inherently futile. As the article goes on to eloquently state, "Life is not a long slow decline from sunlit uplands towards the valley of death." For some, there comes a point in life where there's a crisis, somewhere in "mid-life," and the response to that crisis defines the rest of their lives. There are chapters in Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine regarding women's health, geriatrics, and end-of-life healthcare but no chapter educating physicians on how to handle mid-life issues, either for patients or for themselves.

What if the American healthcare workforce is in the midst of facing its own "middle age" crisis en masse? The government hasn't projected an answer to this question since 2008,[2] but American physicians as a whole are getting older, likely due to personal economic stresses, if not outright crises. As summarized in the Houston Chronicle, "Although the overall physician population has grown 188 percent between 1970 and 2008, according to the AMA, the physician population over age 65 has grown by 408 percent in the same period. Economic factors may be keeping many physicians on the job longer, according to data from The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance firm. The company found that the portion of physicians reporting satisfaction with retirement plans has dropped 18 percent since 2006, and the average age at which an internist retired had increased from 62 in 2002 to 70 in 2009."[3]

Pressures from shrinking reimbursements and increasing expenses are pushing physicians to work harder and longer and to adopt and adapt to an increasingly more electronic and centralized healthcare system. These physicians, who should be enjoying their fully developed careers or preparing for retirement, are finding their life trajectories unexpectedly altered.

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