Why Doctors Are Unhappy

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As a medical student, I was often unhappy. I would be stressed about the next exam, downtrodden after a surgeon just yelled at me in the OR, or worried that I may not match into the residency of my choice. These are just some of the feelings that doctors-in-training experience every day.

Becoming a physician is no easy task. In the United States, it often takes 11-15 years of education after high school: 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3-7 years of residency. Along the way, you are faced with competitive admission committees, difficult exams, and uncertainty of whether you will make it all the way through.

Why put up with all of this stress and anxiety? Because young doctors are often looking forward to a “good life” later on. Not only are doctors viewed as financially well-off, but they are also among the highest respected professions in society. Therefore, we deal with what we have to in order to become physicians.

The promise of future salvation keeps us going. However, now that I’ve taken a leave of absence from medical school for two years to pursue an MBA, I’ve had the chance to reflect on the past three years of my medical school career. I recently read the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. In it, is the secret to why so many future doctors (and doctors) are unhappy.

There is no such thing as future salvation.

Eckhart Tolle stresses that if you are always looking forward to happiness in the future, then you will never be happy at all. You can only be happy in the now. If you are not happy now, then don’t expect to be happy later. Be happy now or be miserable forever.

But searching for future salvation is exactly what medical students, residents, and even physicians do. We are willing to put in the time and energy to become physicians because of the idea of delayed gratification. We’ll work our tails off now so that later we can live a life in which we can provide great care to our patients, get paid well for doing it, and live a more balanced life.

But that is a flawed mentality. I realize now that I was always looking forward to getting something over with in medical school: the next block of curriculum, the next United States Medical Licensing Exam, the next clinical rotation, etc. Once I got done with that one thing, I would hope that my life would be a little better. But it wasn’t.

And that is what we, as future physicians, do. We expect that life will be better once we are done with premed, medical school, and residency. But it doesn’t get better. It will stay the same…unless you change your mentality.

Enjoy the now. Enjoy studying for the organic chemistry test as a premedical student. Enjoy rotating through internal medicine as a medical student. Enjoy working 80-hour weeks as a resident. If you do not enjoy your current situation, you will not enjoy your future one. As Eckhart Tolle states, “Nothing has happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”

Be happy now. It is the only way to be happy ever.

Shaan Patel is the founder of 2400 Expert Test Prep, a #1 bestselling author, and MD/MBA student at Yale and USC. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class.

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5 Thoughts to “Why Doctors Are Unhappy”

  1. Mahesh Giri

    You have not actually mentioned the reasons for unhappiness

    1. My name is no

      Except s/he did.

      “Eckhart Tolle stresses that if you are always looking forward to happiness in the future, then you will never be happy at all.”

  2. DR.Fiaz Fazili

    Look Beyond Your Distractions…………..
    High Expectations,achievable or unachievable,affordable or not Can Hold You Back and Keep You Unhappy-When expectations rule our lives, we set ourselves up for disappointment.When we the Medicos fail to do,achieve what we want, what we aspired for we feel disappointed ,sad and unhappiness takes the troll;
    A good working definition of expectations is planned disappointment. And expectations are directly correlated with happiness, or more aptly, unhappiness.
    When what we expect to happen does not happen, we are disappointed and we suffer pain at some level. The greater the expectation, the greater the pain.Change Your Thoughts Grow your happiness by lowering your expectations and growing your gratefulness.The more successfully we can lower our expectations of others, the more time we have to develop our personal sense of confidence and resilience ………….
    DR FIAZ FAZILI_is a laparoscopy and Breast Surgeon-
    President world association of laparoscopy surgeons-ksa
    Clinical auditor-Leading Healthcare Planner,Corporate Strategist,Quality, Operations .
    Healthcare Consultant on Quality , Safety management,Accreditation like Hospital performance improvement programmes……

  3. Valmed

    You don’t become a doctor to get rich! There are other jobs with less studying less work and better financial security. You become a doc. if you like studying and learning stuff is like a hobby, if you want to khow all there is about the human body and actually like doing the job. (consulting, diagnosing and treating). I was never an unhappy student and am not an unhappy resident. I am not rich and I practice in Romania, a country with a crappy health system. I am paid 600 eur per month but I go to work with a smile on my face and after a few weeks of hollyday I can’t wait to go back to work. I will never be rich but I will always be happy because I like studying and I like my job. If you don’t feel the same, you should not be a doctor !

    1. Laura

      Yep. Most that are doctors right now should not be doctors by this definition (which is correct)…and since there are already not enough doctors in the world…If you take their delayed gratification away and, as a system, you then wait for the passioned ones to show up…the wait might be longer than expected. Peace and health to all!

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