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A guest column by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, exclusive to

My physician grandfather believed medicine was the noblest profession, a career that combined making an honest living with a meaningful difference. Inspired by his passion, I followed in his footsteps, believing I was on the path to a lucrative life of helping people in need.

The reality has been bumpier and more surprising than expected.

Medicine is noble. As an anesthesiologist and pain medicine physician, working to keep patients safe is rewarding. But the business of medicine and the health care landscape has shifted, creating day-to-day challenges far removed from my perceived reality.

Today’s early-career physicians are tasked not only with clinical but financial challenges as well. Most young anesthesiologists today carry hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. We’re entering a workforce plagued by falling payment rates. We’re working more while grappling with an increasingly complex and fragmented medical system. And many of us were expected to acclimate to new responsibilities, environments, and peers, often with limited support, as a worldwide pandemic raged. The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, exacerbated many challenges — stress levels shot up as staffing levels fell, and medication shortages spread.

Faced with such a chaotic reality, it’s not surprising that many early-career physicians don’t find the free time or resources to commit to their specialty societies. But the truth is, early-career physicians like me need all the support medical specialty societies can offer, now and in the future. From advocacy and educational resources to advance scientific innovations and operational excellence, specialty societies gather and organize like-minded professionals to further shared interests. And the future of these societies is in the hands of today’s medical students, residents, and young attendings. Engaging early-career physicians is essential for these organizations to thrive in the coming decades.

If specialty societies want early-career physicians like me to get involved and take up leadership responsibilities, they must meet us where we are at, recognizing that today’s medical career is not what most senior faculty experienced. They must recalibrate what they offer to meet the unique needs of this distinctive period.

Fortunately, my specialty society, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), listened to my cohort’s concerns and invested in a new Early-Career Membership Program – finely tuned to give us the right benefits at the right time and at a dramatically reduced price for three years.

Saving indebted new physicians money doesn’t solve all our problems, but it gives us much-needed financial relief during our critical early years. Early-career programs provide financial savings with the timely resources we need most, including free event registrations and education to help us network and expand our knowledge base to keep up with the rapidly changing scope of medicine.

The curation of resources may seem like a small gesture, but delivering the right content at the right time saves us time and effort. It’s one more way specialty societies can go the extra mile to create value for early-career physicians, crafting programs that meet our unique and complex needs. The combination of savings and targeted resources makes access to membership easier and will go a long way to convince early-career physicians that we’re valued. Belonging to a specialty society that’s investing in its future leaders gives me the needed support—professionally and personally—and makes me feel heard and welcome.

My grandfather might be surprised by the debt many of us carry, the fragmented care we juggle, and the unique payment challenges we face. But he’d recognize the desire to help others. Investing in early-career physicians heralds change and embeds the nobility of serving others — something that holds significant value to early-career physicians like me.

Muhammad A. Farooq Anwar is an anesthesiologist.

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