This is the best of times to be a United States physician. But it also is among the most challenging.

My optimism about the professional lives of physicians today has ample basis in reality. The trust and respect patients feel for their personal physicians still runs extremely high. The number of medical school applicants continues to increase every year. The opportunities for physicians to improve the health of the American public are unparalleled. The practice of medicine remains among the most fulfilling of human endeavors.

Simply put, being a doctor is a rare privilege.

Even so, with every aspect of U.S. health care changing faster and more profoundly than ever before, day-to-day medical practice is becoming more frustrating and problematic. Physicians report working longer hours, spending a higher percentage of time on administrative and clerical chores, and feeling relentless pressure from multiple quarters, including insurance companies, regulators and the legal system. Increasingly, the business of medicine is interfering with the practice of medicine.

And physicians feel their voices are not being heard when it comes to the national policy debate about the future of health care in this country.

No wonder physician satisfaction across the country has declined to its lowest levels ever.

Over the course of three columns, I will examine this complex – and often contradictory – physician landscape. This series will aim to illuminate first what’s great about being a doctor today, next what’s most troublesome about it, and finally the fixes needed to ensure that the positive ultimately outweighs the negative.

This article is the first of a series. It appeared on JUL 23, 2015 @ 10:00 AM,