Happiness in Endocrinology


I believe it is the human aspect of my job that keeps me from flinging my laptop against the wall every day.

According to a recent report, endocrinologists are twice as happy outside of work than they are at work.

Well, I suppose that’s no surprise. I would think almost anyone would be happier being at home, pursuing hobbies or playing with their kids. What did surprise me is that endocrinologists are apparently happier than many other specialists, although apparently dermatologists and ophthalmologists enjoy work more than we do. I was also surprised that women endocrinologists seem happier at work than their male counterparts. 

We are also among the least burned-out; although sadly still 46% feel burned-out. Also, quite sadly, while the severity of our burn-out is among the lowest (second only to infectious disease as the least severely burned-out), we’ve rated it as a 4 on a scale of 1 to 7.

Like most specialists, the top cause of our burn-out is the increasing number of bureaucratic tasks we are expected to perform. The threat of malpractice is pretty low on our list of concerns, as is the inability to keep up with current research and recommendations. 

The report also reveals biases physicians have against their patients. Unlike many other specialties where a patient’s heavier weight sparks bias, especially by male physicians, emotional problems lead to more bias among endocrinologists. Perhaps it’s because many patients complain that their symptoms are because of their thyroid or adrenals when depression or anxiety are the real culprits. Or maybe it’s because emotional problems make it so much harder to manage diabetes. Having said that, having these biases usually does not affect patient treatment.

I wonder whether our lack of burn-out is because we have better coping mechanisms than our colleagues. When I was a fellow, I thought it was just my attendings who had quirky senses of humor. I have noticed, however, over the course of my career, that many endocrinologists have a weird, almost critical sense of humor. Is it perhaps because we enjoy puzzles, enjoy picking through details, pointing out inaccuracies? Is it because we rejoice at figuring out a difficult case? Is it because we get excited over rare cases and new drugs? Or is it because we get to know our patients over the many years that they come to see us? We can never really cure them of their chronic medical illnesses; we simply help them manage. And in the course of doing so, we need to ask about family and home situations, in addition to all the non-endocrine medical issues they have. I have patients I’ve been seeing for over 15 years. I’ve watched some go from older teen to young adult. I’ve met girlfriends who became wives who became mothers. I’ve consoled parents on the loss of a child, congratulated on graduations, and looked at wedding pictures. I believe it is the human aspect of my job that keeps me from flinging my laptop against the wall every day. When the pressures of bureaucracy take away the joy of interacting with my patients, then I’ll know I’m burned-out and ready to hang up my white coat.

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