Menu Close

8 Common Mistakes That Can Derail A Doctor’s Career

doctor talks to nurse in hospital corridor

Making it in medicine isn’t easy. We have seen stellar doctors derailed by small missteps. It just takes one serious error in judgment – and bam – your career takes a major hit. 

Here are some tips that might come in handy to steer clear of the usual blunders that I’ve noticed causing trouble for more than capable doctors.

Read on to learn how small oversights today can sabotage your practice tomorrow. With some wisdom and vigilance, you can have a long, successful career ahead.

1. Making Medicine Your Entire Identity

“Making your career your life” is an easy trap for doctors to fall into. Medicine requires tremendous sacrifices of time and energy, often subsuming hobbies, friends, and family. 

But while being a physician becomes a central piece of one’s identity, it shouldn’t fully define you.

We always stress the importance of maintaining interests and roles outside of your profession. Keep investing time in non-medical hobbies you enjoy, make room for family and friendships, and continue developing your identity beyond just your job. 

This will ultimately make you a happier, healthier, and more balanced doctor.

Don’t Lose Yourself

Often the grueling demands of medical training and clinical practice can cause physicians to gradually lose touch with the well-rounded person they were before entering the field. 

Making medicine your whole world can feel noble and dedicated initially. But this tunnel vision often leads to burnout and bitterness down the road.

Value Personal Relationships

It’s also vital to nurture personal relationships with family and friends, who often get neglected due to demanding clinical schedules. Set aside time for your loved ones and lean on them for support during stressful periods.

Avoid the temptation to make your career your be-all, end-all. Medicine plays an important role but shouldn’t absorb everything else that makes your life meaningful.

2. Failing to Manage the Business Side of Medicine

Medicine is both a noble profession and a business. However, many doctors dislike the business aspects and fail to properly educate themselves on topics like:

  • Healthcare regulations and compliance
  • Documentation, coding, auditing, and billing procedures
  • Human resources and staff management
  • Finances, accounting, investments
  • Contracts, malpractice liability, insurance

This lack of business understanding can lead to doctors getting taken advantage of, suffering financial loss, or facing legal issues.

For example, Dr. Amanda Jones, was excited to join an orthopedic surgery group right after residency. The senior partners gave her a lengthy contract to sign, which she scanned quickly before adding her signature.

Two years later, Dr. Jones was frustrated that her salary hadn’t increased at all, despite bringing in a growing business. She decided to review the contract more thoroughly and realized there was a non-compete clause that severely limited her ability to leave the practice. There were also questionable clauses about bonuses and equity.

Unsure what to do, Dr. Jones confided in a friend who suggested she get legal advice. We used a physician contract attorney who specialized in representing doctors. The attorney helped Dr. Jones negotiate a more favorable contract with favorable exit options and financial terms.

From that experience, Dr. Jones learned the importance of fully understanding any contracts before signing. She also realized she needed to educate herself on the business side of medicine to avoid getting taken advantage of.

To avoid costly business-related mistakes, physicians should:

  • Learn healthcare regulations, billing rules, human resources best practices, and finances
  • Hire practice management consultants or advisors
  • Review all contracts thoroughly before signing
  • Obtain proper malpractice insurance and asset protection
  • Document diligently to avoid insurance audits and denials
  • Surround themselves with knowledgeable advisors

3. Neglecting Your Own Health and Well-Being

Physicians understandably dedicate immense time and care to their patients’ well-being. But this intense focus often comes at the expense of their own self-care. 

Making personal health an ongoing priority better equips doctors to help others long-term. Otherwise, continually neglecting their own needs leads down an ominous path toward exhaustion, illness, and total burnout. 

Don’t let your patients’ care come at the complete expense of your own.

Prioritize Adequate Sleep

With hectic schedules, doctors frequently sacrifice sleep, instead choosing long work hours and taking overnight calls. But chronic sleep deprivation impairs cognitive function and emotional regulation. 

Set a firm boundary around achieving 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Guard your sleep schedule fiercely, take naps when possible, and don’t rely on caffeine alone to power through fatigue. Try meditation to improve sleep.

Your patients deserve a doctor who is well-rested, clear-headed, and functioning at full capacity during appointments and procedures.

Don’t Skip Meals

Similarly, when slammed with back-to-back appointments, doctors often work through lunch and snacks haphazardly. This leads to blood sugar crashes, poor concentration, and irritable moods – less than ideal when caring for ill patients. 

Always take time for proper meals and hydration. Keep healthy snacks handy for busy days. Fuel yourself adequately to sustain energy and maximize effectiveness.

Don’t Delay Health Appointments

Physicians should never delay their own routine medical care, dental visits, physical exams, etc. Set these appointments proactively, rather than putting them off for “someday.” 

You deserve the same level of care that you provide your patients each day. Don’t neglect checkups or let health issues linger untreated.

Take Time Off When Needed

In addition, truly relax and unplug during your scarce downtime and scheduled vacations. Don’t just spend this time idly catching up on charts and emails. 

Doctors need – and deserve – breaks from the constant demands. So fully disengage and recharge however you can. You’ll return renewed, inspired, and better equipped to assist your patients.

In summary, adopt a “physician, heal thyself” mindset. Attend diligently to your own health, or you’ll have little left to give others. 

Keep track of your health and fitness resolutions. Put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.

4. Failing to Learn Personal Finance Skills

Doctors invest over a decade in intensive medical training, only to enter the working world lacking basic personal finance skills. 

New physicians are eager to start earning, yet often saddled with tremendous educational debt. Combine graduated doctors’ inexperience in managing money with elevated incomes and student loans, and financial disaster often strikes.

To avoid such pitfalls, doctors must educate themselves on personal finance and intelligently manage their incomes.

Budget Wisely

With salaries starting around $200,000 for new doctors, it may be tempting to immediately indulge in luxuries. But resisting lifestyle inflation and living below your means is wise, at least initially until loans are repaid. 

Track your income and expenses diligently. Stick to a reasonable budget that balances loan repayment, sensible savings goals, and some discretionary spending.

Pay Down Debt Aggressively

Regarding debt, most medical students borrow six-figure sums just to complete their degrees. So new physicians should focus aggressively on repaying this debt before other priorities. 

Devise a loan payoff timeline and attack principal balances. Refinance when possible to lower interest rates. Eliminating debt quickly frees up more cash flow for later.

Learn to File Taxes Correctly

Filing taxes properly is also critical financially. Most resident salaries are W-2 income, but filing gets more complex for attending physicians incorporating business deductions, retirement accounts, capital gains, etc. 

Learn to legally minimize your tax liability. Consult a CPA if unsure, and avoid any fraudulent filings.

Understand Investment Options

Additionally, take time to learn prudent investment strategies, like 401(k)s, IRAs, HSAs, and low-cost index funds. Start saving for retirement immediately and maximize any employer matching. 

Review your risk tolerance and time horizon to choose wise investments. Compound interest is powerful if given time.

5. Undervaluing Your Worth as a Physician

Doctors readily make personal sacrifices to provide care for their patients. But in doing so, many become inadvertently conditioned to undervalue their worth.

You Provide Immense Value

Never lose sight of the immense value you provide as a physician. You deliver a depth of knowledge, clinical judgment, procedural competence, and analytical skill that no other field can offer. 

You make countless sacrifices in your training and career for the good of your patients. You work extensive hours and carry immense liability on patients’ behalf. This is all extraordinarily valuable.

You Assume Greater Risks

Physicians take on much greater occupational liability risks relative to other careers. A minor mistake on your part could result in a patient’s grave harm or death – scenarios no other professional regularly confronts. 

Your job intrinsically carries greater hazards. This deserves commensurate compensation.

6. Failing to Set Proper Goals and Remember Their Passion

It’s easy for physicians to get so focused on day-to-day demands that they lose sight of their original hopes and dreams. In the grind of their demanding careers, some forget the ambitious, passionate person they were before medicine.

Setting intentional goals and revisiting why they chose this path in the first place helps doctors maintain motivation and avoid missteps born of apathy or frustration. 

Most physicians enter medicine to heal others, not get rich or achieve prestige. It is beneficial to periodically remember their vocation’s noble purpose and making sure their daily work aligns with it.

Specifically, doctors should:

  • Create a personal mission statement encapsulating their values
  • Set short and long-term goals for their careers and lives
  • Share these goals with trusted friends or colleagues who can provide accountability
  • Re-read old essays or application materials reminding them of their passions
  • Reflect on the most rewarding aspects of their work
  • Recognize their irreplaceable value in healing the sick

This self-reflection helps sustain energy, purpose, and focus over the long haul.

7. Pursuing Medicine to Heal Yourself

Some students select medicine unconsciously hoping the field will “fix” their own unresolved mental health issues, childhood wounds, or inner turmoils.

However, doctors caution that medicine cannot truly heal these personal struggles. Transferring such baggage onto patients often harms their care.

Don’t subconsciously expect medical training to be personally restorative.

Do the Personal Work First

If you have experienced trauma, family dysfunction, depression, anxiety, addiction issues, or other struggles, prioritize resolving these through therapeutic modalities before medical training. 

Processing your pain frees you to fully be present with patients.

You Can’t Outrun Inner Turmoil

Also, recognize that attempting to escape inner turmoil by burying yourself in medical textbooks won’t prove effective long-term. 

Suppressed issues will inevitably resurface and impair your clinical work if left unaddressed. So face your wounds explicitly and thoroughly.

8. Isolating Yourself From Fellow Doctors

Medical training cultivates intense camaraderie between peers facing its shared rigors. But once doctors scatter for residencies and fellowships, it’s easy to lose touch with one another over time. 

Avoiding this drift takes effort, but is well worth it, according to the physicians.

They strongly encourage nurturing relationships with your medical school classmates and residency colleagues. These peers uniquely understand your experiences and the challenges you face in practice.

Stay connected with them to mutually lend support during difficult times. Don’t isolate yourself unnecessarily.

Proactively invest in those relationships, even as life pulls comrades geographically apart. Check in periodically and visit when possible. 

Voice struggles you face confidentially to trusted peers who can relate from shared experiences. Seek their counsel when needed.

So in conclusion avoiding these prevalent pitfalls and their resulting consequences will help position physicians for fulfilling, successful careers centered on patient care. 

But when serious mistakes happen, seek experienced legal counsel to protect your interests.With diligence, self-awareness, peer support, and prompt crisis management as needed, doctors can steer clear of career-derailing mistakes.