The Loneliness of Being a Physician

Gregory A. Hood, MD


February 12, 2019

In This Article

Healthcare Is Becoming More Disconnected

The hustle and bustle of the holidays and the accompanying get-togethers and social obligations—among family, friends, and colleagues—has come to an end. A new year means time to get back to work and, often for physicians, picking up old work habits that tend to isolate them from others.

By their nature, humans are social creatures. Although each of us needs periodic respites of solitude, there is an important difference between being alone and being lonely.

For those who practice medicine, this distinction has become much more visceral in recent years. There are many reasons that people choose to practice clinical medicine, but those reasons are often based in an essential priority of connecting with other people and helping them. The relentless corporate trend of fragmenting healthcare delivery has been exerting an inexorable pressure on the soul of the physician.

In my practice lifetime, I've seen the dissolution of the connected professional community. My partner and I still do our very best to be fully engaged as physicians in the office and the hospital, and with our families, and the community. It's incredibly challenging to balance. Indeed, while we're doing much more now to communicate and collaborate together, in the recent past it was not uncommon for us to go an entire week in the office without laying eyes on each other.

When a physician doesn't happen across their partner, or is too overburdened with scheduling and documentation requirements to go to the hospital or attend a professional or social gathering, then what is the route of professional connectivity?

As John J. Frey 3rd, MD,[1] wrote recently in a must-read treatise, such changes "have led to an increasing sense of professional loneliness that not only threatens the quality of clinical care by replacing personal discussions about patients but also poses risks to physician personal and professional wellbeing."

Dr Frey's recitation of how collegial and "fun" medical school and training, and even lunches or quick visits to the doctor's lounge/dining room, used to be is spot on. This experience may be utterly alien to those who have trained under "work hour restrictions," which have forced young colleagues to physically leave the training facility by a set time or face censure.


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