Physicians Aren't Unhappy: Everybody Is Unhappy

Ryan Gray, MD
Ryan Gray, MD

Ryan Gray, MD, is a former Air Force Flight Surgeon. He is now helping premed students overcome obstacles on their journey to become physicians at the Medical School Headquarters.

I'm always fascinated by the Medscape physician reports every year and seeing how unhappy physicians are. How burnt out they are. How dissatisfied with their careers they are.

I'm always fascinated by the Medscape physician reports every year and seeing how unhappy physicians are. How burnt out they are. How dissatisfied with their careers they are.

In the newest Physician Lifestyle report, published in January 2015, all but three specialties are at a burnout rate higher than 40%, with six specialties at or above 50% of their respondents stating they were burnt out.

Not enough income, too many bureaucratic tasks, and spending too much time at work were the leading causes of this burnout. Women were more burnt out than men.

Middle-aged physicians were more burnt out than their counterparts.

Maybe they weren't taking enough time off? Actually, those that had more vacation time were not less burnt out.

Not surprisingly, physicians who work out more, reported less rates of burnout.

Published in April 2015, the newest Physician Compensation report from Medscape revealed that only 64% would choose to practice medicine again, and only 45% would pick the same specialty!

After reading all of these stats, it's no wonder those inside medicine think being a physician is terrible. It seems like everyone wants out!

Guess what. The problem isn't medicine. The problem isn't physicians. It's our culture. Americans, in general, aren't satisfied with their work. It has nothing to do with being a physician. Dissatisfaction has infiltrated all industries, and all jobs.

In the 2014 The Conference Board Job Satisfaction survey, only 48% of Americans are happy at work. This is not much different than the 45% of physicians who would choose the same specialty.

Another recent study from Staples Advantage and WorkPlaceTrends showed 53 percent of American workers report feeling burned out at work.

And yet another poll from WorkPlaceTrends shows 45% of workers don't feel like they don't have enough free time!

Does this sound familiar?

What is at the root of all of this? It’s not just medicine. It’s not one particular industry, one specific job. We ALL are unhappy.

Are we not taking care of ourselves, thus causing mental fatigue and burnout?

An interesting find from Glassdoor Economic Research shows a 0.6-point decrease in employee satisfaction each year of experience in the workplace. This is the most interesting stat to me. This tells me there is something bigger going on.

Are employees becoming more jaded, more burnt-out, more bored, or something else?

Our society has come to be okay with being dissatisfied and running for the door, whether it be with a marriage or with a job. It's easier to run and start something new than it is to stick it out and fix the issues in front of you.

Physicians need to dig deep and remember why they went into medicine in the first place, to treat patients. We need to understand that WE are responsible for our happiness. We need to take care of ourselves with exercise, eating right and getting enough sleep. We need to seek out more stimulation, more education, and more ways to challenge ourselves in our current workplace.

So, the next time you hear your colleagues complaining about being a physician, how they don't have enough free time or aren't happy with their pay, remind them that it's about them, not the job.