By John Duerden, MD and Geoffrey Wright, MD:
The transition from the military to the civilian lifestyle can be a difficult one. Because the military takes care of the hassle of figuring out the necessities of everyday living, such as insurance and housing, many veterans find it challenging to acclimate themselves once their military careers are over.
Veteran physicians often experience this struggle as they transition from military hospitals to private practices. While the dedication to patient care and wellbeing always takes precedence, the internal factors tend to vary.
During your military career, you won’t have to be concerned over a patient’s insurance or what your salary may be. The ability to practice pure medicine helps hone your skills and gives you more opportunity to give each patient more one-on-one time. However, the fear of deployment is always a concern, especially if you have a family. Deployments do give you the opportunity to solely focus on your craft, but, as they do with any military person, the stress they bring also inevitably affects you and your loved ones for long stretches of time.
Military physicians work as a whole team, so you’re never working your hours alone. Schedules allow for another physician to work with you or be available at any time to assist. There’s a shared camaraderie amongst your peers. In the private sector, on the other hand, each physician tends to have varying schedules, which means you may not have that automatic support. There’s also a need to understand the business aspect of a private sector practice. With more competition, patients have multiple providers to choose from as compared to military hospitals, where they see whoever is available. Private physicians must market themselves to the public in order to gain awareness and build relationships with their potential clientele.
Physician burnout can vary for private physicians and those in the military. Because your hours are set in the military, you have expectations for what your days will carry (except during deployments, when your constant focus is on your work). In the private field, you will operate longer daily. However, depending on your ability to handle stress, either field can weigh heavily on your day-to-day operations.
For any physician transitioning from the military to a private practice, be prepared for the pace to be quicker, especially on the clinic side. You will need to understand not only insurance authorization and approvals, but peer-to-peer reviews. Figuring the type of practice in your preferred city – whether it’s private, hospital, or an academic setting – is important to narrow down where you end up practicing.
Being in the military has helped veterans become better physicians. While deployments are stressful, they give you time and opportunity to work and build your skills under the direst situations. Your military background will help prepare you for the most complicated cases while practicing in the private sector. The best advice to prepare you for this transition is be ready to work towards reaching potential patients, understand the business of running a practice, and don’t expect the expected. Your background will be invaluable to your craft as a civilian physician.
John D. Duerden, MD is a Board certified Orthopaedic Surgeon, Foot and Ankle Specialist and Geoffrey Austin Wright, MD is a Board certified Orthopaedic Surgeon Joint Replacement Specialist with SMOC, Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center. smoc-pt.com