Healthcare in America and the practice of medicine has undergone a sea change over the last couple of decades. It used to be about Dr Johnson’s office around the corner that would serve you and your whole family. Nowadays, it’s about mega-specialty groups and large healthcare conglomerates. It’s about mergers and hostile corporate takeovers. Statistics now suggest that over 50 percent of physicians are employed rather than being in their own private practice as business owners—a state of play that has huge consequences for the way physicians work and their level of autonomy.
It’s also posed another unique challenge for physicians, traditionally used to being solo practitioners or in small group practices. When you are employed, it’s all about the organization and the philosophy of the board of executives. This is par for the course and where we find ourselves as a profession. But crucially, it also means that physicians have to think long and hard about how we brand ourselves and promote what we do. The need to market ourselves as individuals seems less relevant as an employee than a private practitioner, but physicians would be selling themselves short if they neglected this completely. That’s because as a physician you have a uniquely sellable and in-demand skill. Current estimates suggest there could be an upcoming physician shortage of up to 90,000 by 2025. That’s a staggering number. Who knows what the healthcare environment will look like in the future, and who you will even be working for? But the one certainty is that as long as any doctor stays in clinical medicine, their skills will remain in high demand. The job security and choice you have is unparalleled compared to almost all other industries, and should be taken advantage of.
As uncomfortable as it may make the ranks of corporate medicine, the fundamental interaction of healthcare will always be between the patient and their doctor. Patients come in specifically to see their doctor, and assuming they like and have an ongoing relationship with them, couldn’t give a hoot about the organization, business-type gimmicks, or that shiny corporate logo! By the same token, it’s foolish for any physician to have extreme loyalty or feel too proud of working for any corporation. Sure, do an amazing job to the best of your professional abilities and tick all of the necessary boxes, but don’t get too attached or somehow see yourself or your title as an “integral and indispensable” part of any company. I always chuckle to myself a bit when I see physicians who think that their institution is “the best” and would do anything for them (I kid you not, but I once worked somewhere where a physician named his dog after the healthcare organization!).
The cold truth is that any corporation would fire you in a second if they ever needed to. They would perform the standard corporate “restructure” and juggle things around in a heartbeat if they deemed it to be in the best interests of the company bottom line. This is true in any big business, and is something that society as a whole is increasingly realizing. It’s also why we are witnessing the seeds being planted of a whole new worker-employer relationship throughout many industries, especially when that “worker” is a highly educated and trained professional.
What you should have extreme loyalty and pride in, however, is your own personal brand—which you should strive to develop. Your own philosophy, dedication and clinical skills. You can do whatever you like to promote this—it could be a website, a social media account, or better still, even just the way you project yourself at work. One of the pioneers of physician branding is Dr Kevin Pho, who founded the popular social media site for doctors, KevinMD. The way physicians establish and brand themselves nowadays will be critical for their future career success. Doctors as a whole, have some catching up to do in this respect, because they are behind most other professions in realizing this.
So Doctor, understand that you have a very portable skill set that is transferrable anywhere. It may sound rather selfish, but be loyal only to yourself and your patients (in fact, be ruthlessly selfish in that regard—just like that executive who claims to be totally immersed and wedded to an organization—and then is gone in a flash as soon as a better offer arises!).
At every point, communicate the fact that you are a skilled physician that could be working anywhere, and that your patients are coming to see you. Be your own brand of fabulous medical care delivery. You are as autonomous and independent-thinking as you possibly can be, and will always go your own extra mile for the patient. That will stand you in good stead as healthcare continues its tumultuous journey.