Updated: Sep 9, 2021
At a restaurant recently, I heard a man proudly announce to the host, “The reservation is under Dr. Smith.” He made sure to emphasize the word “Doctor.” I suppose he wanted some recognition of his chosen profession; after all, becoming a doctor is no easy task. Who could blame him?
For much of my medical career, however, I would actually go out of my way NOT to disclose my profession. I never announced my title when meeting someone new. People seldom understood my reluctance to share this detail of my life.
My reluctance to share my profession as a doctor was due to the many aspects of my career that were eating away at me--all things that no one ever told me before I became a physician.
Please don’t get me wrong; my medical career has been an intensely gratifying experience at times. I have loved caring for families, comforting a patient faced with a difficult illness, and easing physical discomfort. I am honored by the trust that so many patients had in me throughout their journey to optimal health. But twenty years in this profession has led me to some serious introspection. If you are a physician, perhaps you can relate to my experience. If you are thinking about a medical career, please read carefully.
Here are ten things I wish I had known before I became a physician:
1. There are other ways to help people.
I became a medical doctor because I wanted to help people. Sound familiar? I never considered any other ways by which I could help ease the sufferings of the human race. I loved helping people and I still do--just in a very different way than I was taught in residency.
2. Medical school trains doctors to fix ONLY what is broken.
My entire training was focused on improving ailing health. Prevention was never addressed. That’s like applying bandages without telling the patient how to prevent the wound in the first place! I quickly learned that I enjoyed educating patients about prevention and giving them the information they needed to live their optimal lives. However, there was a disconnect between what I wanted to do and what made sense to me (prevention) and what my profession focused on (fixing), which led to growing dissatisfaction in my career.
3. The insurance companies dictate everything.
I hoped that I could just incorporate more health and wellness counseling with each patient as part of the visit. The insurance companies don’t pay doctors to take the time for health and wellness counseling. They pay doctors to treat problems the counseling could have prevented. And they withhold payment as long as they can--if they decide to pay at all. Let’s just say that the insurance system is not designed to benefit the patients or the doctors.
4. Doctors typically make less and less each year AND work longer hours.
There is not a lot of explanation needed here! With most professions, the financial benefits increase as experience and knowledge increase. In medicine, doctors are paid by negotiating with insurance contracts. These contracts are not negotiated based on merit, but by manpower. The bigger the group of doctors, the better the negotiating prowess. As a solo practitioner in private practice, I faced an uphill battle.
5. Medicine can be a very difficult profession for an empath.
Some people are more empathetic than others. An empath dedicated to treating the pain of others will experience collateral damage. For me, seeing forty patients a day was very exhausting. I felt so much sympathy and concern for the maladies of my patients that I was drained both physically and emotionally. The help I offered to others was, in fact, hurting me.
6. A physician’s family will make tremendous sacrifices.
It is easy to think that the choice of a career in medicine only affects you, but that is not the case. Families of physicians also feel the burden of career stress, emotional and physical absence. In my case, the demands of medicine left me drained, and I know that had a negative impact on my family.
7. A physician will face a tremendous amount of stress.
Unfortunately, the stress of medical school does not cease upon graduation. In medical practice that stress can range from severely ill patients, malpractice, handling difficult patients, neglected family members, and ever changing rules and regulations. To put things into perspective, when a physician has a bad day at work, it usually means someone died.
8. Time is always in short supply.
Physicians are expected to constantly stay up to date on newly emerging trends in their specialty, attend conferences, and keep on top of daily patient loads. At home, families and life responsibilities occupy precious hours away from the office. There often is very little time for physicians to dedicate to their own health and wellness.
9. No one cares for physicians like they care for their patients.
For a profession that touts kindness, compassion, and benevolence, physicians are seldom recipients of kindness or compassion in most cases. Doctors have the highest suicide rate of any profession. The suicide rate is actually higher than those who served in the military. Many doctors have undiagnosed depression in addition to substance abuse.
10. Sadly, medical doctors are often “overqualified” to change careers.
Physicians may have trouble transitioning to a different career. Before starting Kalvera Skin Therapy, I did some work as a medical expert, considered a career in teaching, and even thought of working for the insurance companies…which would not be ideal for me. Thankfully I was able to translate my positive experiences as a medical doctor into being an entrepreneur. I still use my degree to help people in a way that makes sense to me while also helping myself and others.
Overall, a career in medicine can be very satisfying. Surely, not every physician will experience the frustrations and difficulties I have experienced. I firmly believe that, like all major decisions in life, the decision to pursue a career in medicine should be made carefully and with as much information as possible.
So where am I now?
Fortunately, my years in medicine provided me with the determination, skill set, knowledge and fortitude needed to handle the ebbs and flows of being an entrepreneur. I was able to translate a somewhat frustrating profession into my dream career. As Kalvera Skin Therapy, Inc. grows and is franchised, we will be looking for physicians who are ready to transition away from the medical system and toward a fulfilling life of helping people, making a good living and enjoying a healthier work-life balance. My hope and dream is for Kalvera, Inc. to make the way easier for physicians to live their optimal life while helping our clients do the same.
Dr. Kalpana Sundar is a Physician, entrepreneur and speaker with a passion to disrupt beauty standards and empower women. She is the co-founder of Kalvera Skin Therapy, a startup that tracks skin metrics using technology and uses med-tech procedures to heal your skin. Kalvera Skin Therapy opened its flagship location in Jacksonville Beach, FL in 2020, and is growing rapidly.
Dr. Kalpana is also the author of the forthcoming book Beauty Unbound.