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How Satisfying Is the Practice of Internal Medicine?: A National Survey

Charles E. Lewis, MD; Deborah M. Prout, MAS; Elizabeth Prewitt Chalmers, MA; and Barbara Leake, PhD
[+] Article and Author Information

Requests for Reprints: Charles E. Lewis, MD, Division of General Internal Medicine, B-558 Factor Building, Department of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1685.

Current Author Addresses: Drs. Lewis and Leake: Division of General Internal Medicine, B-558 Factor Building, Department of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90024-1685.

Ms. Prout and Ms. Chalmers: American College of Physicians, 700 13th Street, NW, Suite 250, Washington, DC 20005.


Ann Intern Med. 1991;114(1):1-5. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-114-1-1
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Objective: To survey members of the American College of Physicians about their level of satisfaction and sources of dissatisfaction with practice, the extent to which their satisfaction is reflected in their counseling of students about careers in internal medicine, the prevalence of their concerns about patients' access to care, and their attitudes toward changes in the health care system.

Design: A questionnaire survey of a random sample of members of the College.

Participants: Members (2254) of the College were surveyed; 1446 (64%) responded and 1290 (57%) of the responses were usable.

Measurements and Main Results: More than 80% of respondents were satisfied with their relationships with patients, professional challenges, and opportunities to interact with colleagues. Only about half were satisfied with their potential income, and most were dissatisfied with their autonomy or loss of control over clinical decision making. Major sources of concern were administrative burdens, the threat of malpractice litigation, loss of income, and loss of clinical autonomy. Forty percent of internists say that they discourage students from careers in internal medicine, and only 39% would once again pursue such a career. "Pain in the practice" seems generalized among internists; logistic regression analysis failed to show any specific groups who were most dissatisfied or concerned. With regard to access, 18% of internists had many patients without health care insurance; 69% had some patients without coverage; and the majority (61%) had some patients who lost their insurance because of changing jobs or location. Assuring universal access to care received the highest priority rating of a set of criteria for health care reform.

Conclusions: There is growing dissatisfaction with the practice of internal medicine, primarily related to concerns over loss of clinical autonomy, the increase in administrative burdens, the potential loss of income, and the threat of malpractice litigation. Although physicians are concerned about patients' access to care, proposals to improve access should be examined for their effects on the major sources of physicians' dissatisfaction with practice.

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