I'm intrigued by the number of articles written about the frustrations of medical practice. It makes for good reading, because it resonates with many physicians. From bloggers writing about maintainance of certification and regulations that are destroying medicine, to articles on KevinMD about burnout, physicians are not shy about complaining. But maybe it's time to stop complaining and start leading.

If you stop in any hospital doctor's lounge, you will certainly hear a lot more complaining. We complain about electronic medical records, complicated billing requirements, regulations, lawsuits, the difficulties of running a medical practice or working for a large institution.

stop complaining and start leading whiner

Much of the complaining is warranted. But complaining without taking action is the characteristic of a victim. What we need in healthcare is leadership, not victimhood. And true leaders jump into action and skip the whining part completely.

Complaining Is Not Leading

What does complaining accomplish? For years, I've read surveys showing that physicians are unhappy. They're planning to retire early. Physician numbers should be declining. They won't recommend a career in medicine to their students or family. Fewer students will choose the medical profession.

But, I don't see increasing numbers of physicians quitting. Retirement rates have not gone up. The number of medical schools has grown. So has the number of students applying to medical schools.

I'll admit that physicians are unhappy. If you ask any physician what they don't like, you'll get a list of 10 or 20 things that are wrong with “medicine.”

My question is this: What are we going to do about it?

I recently listened to a podcast in which Tim Ferris interviewed Blake Mycoskie. Mycoskie is one of the founders of TOMS, the shoe manufacturer. TOMS is known for donating a pair of shoes to a needy child for each pair that it sells. It has reportedly donated over 75 million pairs since the company was started about eleven years ago.

During the interview, Ferris and Mycoskie discussed their definition of an entrepreneur. Their assessment: A true entrepreneur cannot be made. An entrepreneur is born when she is consumed by a burning desire to solve a problem. All of the entrepreneurial studies courses at ivy league business schools won't create an entrepreneur without a problem begging to be solved.

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Physicians Who Identified a Problem and Solved It

The same can be said for physicians and leadership. There is no shortage of possible problems for physician leaders to solve. And rather than complaining, we should step up and fix the problems that are plaguing us. Nothing could be more motivating to an emerging physician leader.

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There are many examples of physicians who have done just that:

  • Pamela Wible, a family physician, has taken on the issue of physician depression and suicide. She couldn't stand by and watch as physician suicides grew to double the rate in non-physicians.
  • Atul Gawande, a surgeon, has taken on the issue of patient safety. As a public health journalist and author, having witnessed all of the preventable medical errors around him, he was inspired to speak and write about the issue.
  • Serafino Garella, a nephrologist, founded the largest free medical clinic in the U.S. He was compelled to address the intense need for care of the poor in Chicago, Illinois.
  • Robert Wachter, an internist, started the hospitalist movement in the United States. He recognized the negative effects of trying to balance an outpatient practice with the increasingly complex care of hospitalized patients and created a solution.
  • Howard Maron, a former Seattle SuperSonics team physician, founded a clinic that introduced what became known as concierge medicine. He was responding to the overwhelming paperwork, lack of control, rushed visits, and unhappy patients he and his colleagues were encountering.

stop complaining and start leading

All of these innovations resulted from physicians identifying a problem, becoming obsessed with solving it, and creating a solution. It took leadership.

Four Reasons to Stop Complaining and Start Leading

I can think of four good reasons why physicians should stop complaining and start leading today:

  1. Eliminate negative self-talk. Complaining is a form of negative self-talk. It only leads to deeper frustration and despair. We think of complaining as the result of unhappy circumstances. But the field of positive psychology has demonstrated that negative self talk increases unhappiness, poor health and anxiety. By eliminating complaining and replacing it with positive self talk and taking action, our optimism and vitality improve.
  2. Improve physician engagement. Physician engagement is at an all time low in many institutions. Stepping up to solve problems will help improve engagement and ultimately the lives of our colleagues and our profession.
  3. Elevate our teams. Taking action will improve our standing, and our work environment. The nurses, radiology technicians, pharmacists and other team members will be inspired by our efforts. Then hospital and medical group executives will welcome our input into solving problems, rather than seeing us as whiners.
  4. Promote healthy communities. Developing a meaningful calling, and devoting ourselves to servant leadership, will improve the health of our communities. How many free medical clinics have been started by courageous physicians taking a leadership role?

Think about the problems that can be overcome if we devote ourselves to addressing them.

The next time you hear yourself complaining to your colleagues, step back for a moment and reflect. Make a commitment to address the issues you're complaining about. Begin a journey to take control of the situation. Stop complaining and start leading.

Question: What causes would you be excited about? Answer in the Comments below.

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Until next time.