Physician Staffing Blog

Healthcare News and Trends

Why Physicians Do What They Do

March 29, 2021

Why physicians do what they do

By Tom Florence, executive vice president, Merritt Hawkins


Honoring our dedicated physicians on National Doctors Day 2021


This past year of working through the COVID-19 pandemic has forced physicians across the United States, and around the world, to ask a number of questions, such as:


  • “What can we do to help patients fight this virus and save their lives?”
  • “How can we protect ourselves, our families and our colleagues?”
  • “How can I weather the financial fallout and keep my practice going?”
  • “When will this pandemic end?”

Despite facing personal danger, unparalleled stress and numerous tragedies caused by so much illness and death, physicians have stayed on the front lines and found the fortitude to keep going. In fact, when given a chance, an overwhelming number of physicians have raised their hand to serve in emergency situations, even serving in COVID hot spots.


What makes them do it? The source of their dedication may revolve around their answer to another core question:


“Why did I actually choose to be a doctor?”


These past few months have forced many physicians to reexamine their career choice and spend time reflecting on why they do what they do—and how they can keep doing it.


Why doctors choose the medical profession


Before entering med school, applicants are often asked, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” Their answers usually fall in the category of “I want to help people” or “I want to make a difference.” While other factors may play a part in their decision, most prospective physicians relish the thought of doing challenging yet meaningful work.


This type of intrinsic motivation can propel physicians through years of education, residency training and the realities of delivering patient care in a complex and often difficult healthcare system.


In the 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians, conducted by Merritt Hawkins on behalf of the Physicians Foundation, more than 8,700 physicians were asked which two aspects of medicine they found most satisfying. Their answers ranked as follows:


  • Patient/physician relationships: 78.7%
  • Intellectual stimulation: 55.1%
  • Social and community impact/contributions: 21.0%
  • Income/compensation: 18.9%
  • Professional relationships with colleagues: 14.3%
  • Professional stature of medicine: 9.8%

While physicians’ motivations might differ by degree, the profession ultimately revolves around helping people to the best of one’s abilities. And in the midst of a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on life as we know it, that strong dedication to patients, communities and colleagues has continued to be a directional beam of light for many physicians.


Going forward


What can physicians expect on the road ahead? The pandemic is sure to have some lasting effects on these healthcare heroes. Yes, there will be scars. However, we are hopeful that what they have fought through has made them stronger, and will help them find even deeper meaning in their profession.


A 2003 study in Annals of Internal Medicine examined the question of what physicians found meaningful about their work. The participants were asked to share stories of something meaningful that had occurred in their practice, and the resulting stories revolved around three major themes:


  • A fundamental change in perspective
  • A connection with patients
  • A difference made in someone’s life

It seems that all three of these factors have occurred over the course of the pandemic. Physicians who have treated both COVID and non-COVID patients during this past year are likely to have a new perspective on their role and can appreciate their connection with patients more than ever. Those of us who put our health in their hands can certainly attest to the fact that they make a difference.


In fact, this past year has given the general public a renewed sense of awareness and appreciation for physicians and other healthcare workers who have given their all, and continue to report to work to help others.


At Merritt Hawkins, we have the privilege of working with dedicated physicians every day. As we guide them through career changes, we learn about their motivations, and we see their hard work and their sacrifices. We are grateful for all that they do.


So, especially this year, on March 30, National Doctors Day 2021, we want to acknowledge that physicians deserve much more than just a word of thanks. They deserve our respect, our understanding and our unfaltering support.


Happy Doctors Day!


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