You might be. Learn the warning signs—and ways to avoid it

Do you work long hours? Do you think about your work while driving, while falling asleep, or when others are talking? Do you find it difficult to just sit down and relax?

Stress is the constant companion of many physicians these days. Immense pressure pours in from all sides:

• from patients, who want to receive the very latest medical procedures;
• from insurance companies, who  manage the ever-growing patient population with ever-shrinking reimbursements; and
• from our culture, which expects physicians to be infallible at all times.

Then there are those pesky but essential tasks to keep up with, such as continuing medical education and managing practice overhead. The pressure of “keeping up with the Joneses” and family expectations also keep the physician trying to be the best, the busiest, and the most profitable.

Stress may be even more pronounced in the growing field of aesthetic medicine. Thanks to television programs such as Extreme Makeover and Dr. 90210, the demand for aesthetic procedures has increased dramatically. Plastic surgery is now no longer only for the elite.

Ten thousand Americans turn 50 every day. They want to look as good as they feel, and they have the disposable income to make it happen. Because of the increased demand, aesthetic medicine has become a very lucrative industry and attracts all types of practitioners. The plastic surgeon now competes with others in the field, general practitioners, corporate medical centers, and medical spas.

Because this is elective medicine, patients have a choice of physicians; therefore, physicians must differentiate themselves from the pack or feel the competitive pinch. They must strategically plan their approach so that patients choose them. They must become adept at marketing strategies on top of the advanced medical knowledge they need to keep up with in this changing industry.

This new competition has also forced the physician to look at his or her practice from the patient’s point of view. Whereas the physician wants to keep overhead low and processes simple, the patient is more demanding than ever. The prospective patient wants an aesthetically pleasing atmosphere, a courteous and friendly staff, and limited waiting time.

Therefore, the physician has been forced to re-evaluate his or her facility, staff, processes, and patient experience. This might be new to the physician who has not evaluated the practice from the patient’s perspective. It can be daunting and expensive to revisit, revise, and remodel the entire operation.

With all of these factors, it’s no wonder that many plastic surgeons are feeling a different type of stress: to constantly push ahead of the competition so that revenue keeps coming in consistently. It’s a perfect setup for physician workaholism.

A Major Health Problem
Workaholism is becoming a major health problem in the United States. It has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and other illnesses. I know several physicians who have pinched a nerve, broken a leg, or developed a long-term illness—all likely due to the stress of working too much.

Workaholism’s effects on the family can also be devastating, with the consequences manifesting—as they would with any other addiction—in broken homes. In 1999, Brian Robinson, PhD, then a professor at the University of North Carolina, said on the television program 20/20 that children of workaholics develop the same disorders, such as depression and anxiety, as children of alcoholics.1 

Physicians, ever the overachievers, are particularly susceptible to workaholism. Female physicians are even more vulnerable to becoming work-addicted because of their inherent desire to prove that they are equals in the workplace while maintaining a strong family life. Some expect themselves to be “Super Woman” and juggle everything, only to crash and burn from exhaustion down the road.2

What You Can Do
There is a distinct difference between working hard and being a workaholic. The first step is to re-evaluate oneself in terms other than personal achievements and financial worth, and to recognize the value to be gained from relaxation.

Stephen Viscusi of the Viscusi Group, a New York city-based recruiting firm, presents several tips to avoid becoming a workaholic, or to “cure” yourself if you have already become one.1 They are:

• Block off time for friends and family.
• Take a long weekend.
• Sit and “do nothing” (meditate).
• Learn to delegate work to others.
• Try an exercise routine.
• Find a hobby.
• Consider volunteering.

Finally, recognize that “rest” is not a dirty word. It not only re-energizes you, it actually makes you more productive. You’ll feel refreshed, and, believe it or not, you will be able to take on even more than if you had not rested at all.

There’s no need to fear being beaten down by the competition, or allowing others to take on some of the work for you. By taking the necessary time off, you will feel better and your clients will feel better.

The bottom line is to feel passionate about your work rather than driven to succeed just to beat your competition. You’ll be happier and healthier in the end. PSP

Catherine Maley, MBA, is the president of San Francisco-based Cosmetic Image Marketing, a public-relations, advertising, and marketing firm that specializes in helping aesthetic practices grow. She can be reached at (415) 377-8700 or [email protected].


1. Are you a workaholic? [transcript]. “20/20.” ABC television. April 17, 2006. Available at: Accessed May 8, 2006.

2. Sharma SC. Married to the job. Femina (India Times). October 11, 2004. Available at: Accessed May 8, 2006.