Physicians go into medicine because they want to make a difference, and it is the daily opportunity to help patients that keeps many of them going. Yet today many worry that their contribution is diminishing, and more and more physicians are reporting burnout. Many factors are responsible: increasing productivity demands, decreasing amounts of face time with patients, and a growing awareness that they are spending more time on activities such as record-keeping that don’t enhance their patients’ health.
Such concerns sound especially familiar to many of the 210,000 or so U.S. primary care physicians, a group that includes family physicians, general practitioners, general internists, general pediatricians, and geriatricians. Though they comprise less than one third of all physicians, they account for half of all physician office visits, and for most patients, they are the physicians of first resort. Yet morale is declining, and at a time when many experts foresee a need for an additional 50,000 primary care physicians in just 10 years, the outlook for the patients and communities they serve is not bright.
Consider the case of Dr. Frederic Becker, a general internist practicing outside of Philadelphia. After graduating from Stanford University, he attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Instead of pursuing a career as a specialist, he chose general internal medicine, and now practices in a small group of four physicians.