“Can I give you a hug?” a patient recently asked me, just before breaking into tears and wrapping her arms around me in gratitude.
Hugs weren’t on my list of pros and cons when I chose to become a primary care physician, but they sustained me through some tough years. I am devoted to my patients and my profession. But, like many colleagues, I wonder whether I would choose primary care now if I had to choose again.
Primary care physicians have a high risk of burnout. My colleagues continually announce early retirement, conversion to part-time, and changes of profession.
Compounding the problem, too few physicians are entering our field to meet society’s needs. The situation is worse than studies suggest. Some studies count all internal medicine training as “primary care,” even though the majority of medicine trainees will subspecialize.
The result? Access to primary care has been a national problem for years. Recent attention has focused on access for military veterans, but access has been just as bad — if not worse — for many rural and lower socioeconomic populations. Even in otherwise well-served areas, someone seeking a primary care physician may have few to no options, with visit delays lasting months.