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How leaving medicine revived my love for it

Leaving the highest paying job in medicine was a tough decision.

In 2014 I left the highest paying and most sought after job in healthcare. I was an orthopedic surgeon and lead physician at Kaiser Permanente in the Sports Medicine department in San Marcos. My annual salary was more than Barack Obama’s and my job was pretty cushy.

I reflect now on my decision as well as the advice I offer my peers who seek it.

There is a lot written about how the practice of medicine is changing and there is a wealth of research on job fulfillment (including Maslow’s hierarchy of needs). Throughout my education I loved organic chemistry, I loved collegiate tennis, I loved medical school, I loved my residency.  I loved learning, being challenged, and growing in as many different ways as possible. Being a surgeon and operating on shoulders, hips, knees, hands and other joints was challenging and extremely rewarding. I became an expert after spending my 10,000 hours honing my practice. At Kaiser I had a very good job but after about a half a decade I started experiencing “declining marginal happiness” otherwise known by economists as declining marginal utility.

I observed a paradox inherent to the art of practicing medicine. As a patient you want the most experienced surgeon, who has done a given procedure thousands of times. As a surgeon, after some point in building this repetitive experience you find your excitement from each additional surgery gradually diminishes.

Kaiser is great at training physicians to perfect their practice, however eventually you become a cog in their wheel. Kaiser is the most successful system of integrated medicine in the country, and to do this requires turning the art of medicine into as repeatable a science as possible. The side effect to this is that creativity and non-traditional approaches are not a priority. I had less opportunities to push the envelope and create novel models of delivering care.

It’s then I realized that I wanted to be able to contribute to health care at a higher level. To have a bigger impact and to feel as fulfilled as I once did, I took the entrepreneurial plunge. I started a digital health company and then teamed up with my brother at SpineZone to eliminate over-treatment and reduce the > $100B spent on back and neck pain each year in the US.

I don’t have the security blanket of working for Kaiser, however, we are on the cusp of redefining how orthopedics – and medicine overall – should be practiced. At SpineZone we have successfully reduced pain and improved function for thousands of patients, saved medical groups millions of dollars, and have taken the uncertainty out of treating back and neck conditions.

I am learning every day and once again growing as an individual with a seemingly endless number of challenges. To keep my skills sharp I still operate periodically as a surgeon, where I feel I am more involved and connected with my patients. I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn by our CEO Kian Raiszadeh, MD

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