Current Affairs, Real Medicine

The Unhappy Doctor

My presence in the medical community has not been lengthy, but I’ve noticed one thing: A lot of doctors are terminally unhappy. I know they think we don’t notice their scowl, their rush to get out of the hospital, their snide comments when the patient is finally subdued by the anaesthetic.

I see it. I see the way their shoulders sag and the way they hate talking about news regarding medical science. I see how rude they are to each other, to their nurses, to their students and even to their patients. And it means one thing: They are miserable.

Medscape’s Mark Crane recently revealed a study where it was found that doctors are miserable. Only 54% would choose medicine as a career if they could go back in time. It’s an American study, but I’m willing to bet that South African doctors would have similar results. Perhaps even more so.

Anycase, much of the cited reasons for the disgruntlement relates to finances. Doctors don’t “feel rich”, they earn a substantial salary but also have substantial debts to repay.

I hope that this reason will disappear off the radar soon. There is a perception that doctors are rich. Firstly, I’m really not sure that one should enter a field to get rich. But secondly, those days are long gone. Patients are poor. The economy sucks. Managed healthcare and medical aids are sucking the life out of healthcare professionals.

To prospective medical students: If you want to get rich, this is not for you. Medical school is one of the most expensive fields of study imaginable. It’s long, it’s painful, it’s expensive. If you want to get rich, you need to go into the stock markets, into business, into innovation. Not that you should do that to get rich, either…

Another reason is time lost on administration.

This is a sad but true reason. Life requires paperwork. Lack of paper trails are the reason doctors have managed to give the wrong patient the wrong medication. Anywhere you go, there will be paperwork. I guess here we have to grow up and learn to deal. Or get an assistant (note, “intern” should not be synonymous with “paperwork scutmonkey”!).

But again, I’m going to be a little bitter about medical aid schemes here. The amount of paperwork they require and the amount of telephone-time they want is ridiculous. And they truly leach our patients of their money.

I had to make the decision to study medicine at the tender age of 18.

It’s a harsh fact that many of us decide to go into this field when we barely know ourselves. It scares me. I have so many other passions, and yes, sometimes I wake up and I dread going to the hospital. I don’t want to be a miserable doctor. But life sucks for some people, and we don’t always get to save the world like we dreamed to do.

Are you happy in your job (even if it’s not in healthcare)?

How do you maintain job satisfaction?

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13 thoughts on “The Unhappy Doctor”

  1. Man I see this all the time. I am not a doctor, but I work in the healthcare field installing computer software that is suppose to make their life easier (and the paper trails easier to find). But man, some of the healthcare people I work with, be it IT or administration are just so unhappy. Maybe it’s the stress of dealing with peoples life, but I think it’s more the trying to make everything as easy and complete as possible, which seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.

    Free time just disappears in this field. You have to breathe it sometimes….

    As for me, I generally like my job. I like that I get to travel to different cites and those people are constantly changing and giving me new challenges. Sometimes it can be mentally taxing, but in general I like it. In this economy, I am super lucky to have a job and one that I like, so cheers to that. 🙂

    1. Ah, my dad does more or less what you do then, actually. He loves it too, and he keeps me inspired sometimes because older doctors just aren’t that inspiring anymore. How sad.

      You offer some good insights, thank you!

  2. This is a really interesting post- whenever I go to my doctor I can tell he just wants to get my appointment out of the way as quickly as possible. I have had tonsillitis 3 times already this year and yet he won’t even discuss the possibility of getting them taken out…which is frustrating because getting it so often is a pain! I can understand how stressed they get and how the healthcare sector lets them down but people need to rely on doctors and trust them to do what is best for their health and, a lot of the time, it doesn’t feel like this is the case x

    1. Wow. Doctors tend to shy away from tonsillectomies because they’re quite bloody, but three or more bouts of tonsillitis in one year is a relative indication for the op… It sucks that he doesn’t even discuss it with you.

      I agree 100%. Doctors are supposed to safeguard their patients, and it seems they’re forgetting that role. I have to wonder if it’s something missing in our training… focusing so much on the science and not on the humanities of the field… I took my mom to a new doctor recently and for the first time she feels that a doctor actually cares about her.

  3. My husband was just talking about this study over the weekend. I do think there is a lack of our understanding as patients what goes into the daily life & larger aspects of being a doctor. And a lack for doctors to feel appreciated during their interactions coupled with feeling pressured to try to get as many patients in & out because of financial stressors & policies, which has to add to frustrations for many. Plus, student loan debt is a killer. I know how it feels to work hard but not feel like you are getting ahead for a while due to the debt load from student loans. In the end I think all fields have things we don’t realize {pressures, perceptions of others, stressors etc…} until we live them. If you most days get up & like what you do though then the other stuff evens out & it becomes worth it.

    1. Thanks for that 🙂 student debt sucks, I know it’s going to take me forever to pay it off. But I believe (or hope, rather) that my love for the field will even out the sucky parts.

  4. This seems to be a trend in my field as well (I’m a PhD in training). Long hours with little, if any, immediate rewards can be difficult. Sure, it’s great when you scale it up to a longer time course because the big picture is satisfying. I constantly have to tell myself after bad days “just keep going, as a whole what I am doing will help humanity in a small way, it just doesn’t feel like it right now” and not let the voice saying “your day-to-day life is a jumble of labwork and journal reviews that leaves you feeling frustrated and dumb. Get the hell out and find a more satisfying job, you don’t need all this stress.”

    Still though, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m passionate about what I get to do and the opportunities that come with it, so I take the good with the bad. You really have to give yourself up to it or else you will resent it and hate the demands on your life. I can see why so many doctors struggle with this.

    1. Thanks! I’m glad to hear it’s not just a problem with medical doctors. I like what you say about basically affirming your choices… I suppose a lot of our satisfaction is up to our own mindsets too.

  5. I’m very happy working in television. But I have to say…a lot of my coworkers are kind of miserable! Very negative at times and it drives me nuts. I just try to maintain a positive attitude. Also, I try and have lots of friends “outside the biz” so we’e not just bitching about work all the time. hah!

  6. I worked at a bank and yes, I hated it so much. It wasn’t the job so much as it was the rules for everything we did. I do understand the reason behind many of the rules, but sometimes it felt as if I was the FBI, police, IRS, CIA and a spy. Just know that the work you do is truly appreciated even, if some days it doesn’t seem like it. Vacations, ‘me time’ activities, friends (not in the field) and definitely blogging are all great ways to help combat workplace burnout. I also, chose to leave the bank and pursue another career in event planning. It has it’s down days however those are far and few between. Stay positive.

  7. Spot on. I think that it is a slow rot that slowly consumes us over years of feeling unappreciated. Doctors are rarely on the receiving end of gratitude. When we succeed at our job it is simply viewed as “doing our job” but when we fail, either through our own fault or not, the resulting backlash threatens our entire world. I have recently returned to work after a long break of raising children. I work in a physical rehabilitation unit. This week I discharged someone who had been with us for over a month. When they left every therapist received a slab of choclate by way of thanks, I received, nothing. My husband reports that when he discharges patient from ICU they frequently give small gifts of thanks to the nursing staff but he has to date not received anything. Now it is not about wanting a gift, trust me we do not, and actually feel kind of weird and uncomfortable if people do, it is about sensing that we are not appreciated. Patients really do not want to see us, medical aids do not want to receive our bills, employers do not want to see our certificates and everyone else wants our money eg. Insurance, governing bodies. So hug a doctor today, you may delay the misery.

    1. Oh wow, Leisel, I really appreciate your feedback here. “slow rot” is so accurate. It’s nearly three years since I wrote this post, and I’m working now, and I’m feeling more disillusioned than I had hoped. I find myself constantly having to beg nurses to do their jobs, and having to THANK them afterwards for JUST DOING THEIR JOBS and yes, constantly feeling underappreciated. It’s really hard. I agree: I don’t really want patients to give me gifts because apparently we’re not supposed to accept them, ethically, but it does hurt a little when nurses and therapists get them and we are just given the side-eye. I hope that there is some positivity for you in returning to practice though, and that you will be happy at work. Hug a doctor, indeed!

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