The Loneliness of Being a Physician

Gregory A. Hood, MD

Disclosures

February 12, 2019

In This Article

What Contributes to Medical Isolation?

Furthermore, Dr Frey is correct to explain, "Today, lunches are solitary, eaten at desks from plastic containers from home or takeout from local restaurants while catching up on email, writing charts before the afternoon begins, or answering online patient inquiries. Even in common spaces and nurses' stations, everyone sits silently in front of a computer screen."[1]

It probably doesn't help that the last couple of generations largely have not been "joiners." There are still examples of medical school alumni groups and attendees at medical organization meetings who maintain strong social bonds through such activities, but these appear to be exceptions to this rule. So, if physicians are not connected to other physicians at work, or in professional organizations, where do they turn for their outlet?

As women entered the physician workforce, the rates of dual-physician marriages naturally increased as well. Certainly, there are many potential positives to being married to a partner who understands the required journey to becoming a physician.

However, it should not be assumed that these relationships resolve issues of professional loneliness. Differences in medical/surgical specialties between spouses can be very substantive. Indeed, there can even be a "leave work at work" mantra for the couple which, while creating a haven from work's pressures in the home, does not provide complete respite, because some pains do not diminish in silence.

Compounding this, the requirements to complete medical documentation often push into the late hours of the night, negating the potential for family and spouse interactions. The electronic health record is a potent and effective isolating force in today's physician's life.

When one doesn't encounter colleagues, whether in a segmented large medical setting or an isolated rural practice; doesn't have communal professional outlets; and doesn't collaborate on the stressors with a spouse or is proactively isolated from one's spouse by documentation requirements, being a physician in today's world begins to feel particularly lonely.

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