Why being a doctor is a stressful job
A doctor’s job does not have to be stressful; it should be a rewarding and fulfilling career. So why are so many doctors reporting high levels of stress and burnout – and what can we do about it?
I believe that any doctor can be exceptional and live an exceptional life, and as doctors when we do that we practice better medicine. It’s a privilege to have the knowledge and skills to help people and make a significant difference in their lives. That’s why many of us became doctors – we thrive on making a difference.
But the reality is, most of us aren’t thriving. An American study of over 2,000 physicians demonstrated that 87% of doctors are stressed beyond levels that are productive. A recent study in New Zealand showed that over 50% of doctors are right now experiencing symptoms of burnout and over half would not choose medicine as a career again. There are countless studies to support this. We are in a crisis. But that’s not even the worst of it.
Stress harms us – and our patients
Studies show that stress causes depersonalisation, emotional disconnection with our patients, and depersonalisation leads to increases in major medical errors. Despite ‘First, Do No Harm’ underpinning who we are as doctors, the way we are being as doctors is harming our patients. Medrecruit is not like other medical recruitment agencies. We’re not just about finding doctor jobs; we also want to improve the profession and the lives of doctors as we know this has a wider impact on our communities. In 2017, I successfully got the World Medical Association to include the need for doctors to prioritise their own health and wellbeing in the Declaration of Geneva, the Physician’s Oath. But it’s one thing to know it’s important and another to know how to make it work amidst the rigours of the vocation that is being a doctor. I’ve created an evidence-based wellbeing seminar specifically for doctors called Whole Life Health. In it, I help doctors master the five core determinants of health: mind, body, career, financial and social. Here’s an excerpt from the seminar to help you get started on your road to better wellbeing:
How to make your job as a doctor less stressful
We all have wants and desires in these areas, but that’s not enough. There are two ways to live your life. The two ways have just one difference in how you show up, but the outcomes are worlds apart:
- Mastery Whenever you start something new, you improve. This is the same for the Dabbler and the Master. But after a while you reach a plateau where progress slows, and sometimes even stops. This is where the Dabbler and the Master show up differently.
The Dabbler loses heart, gives up, and looks for the next ‘magic bullet’: the ‘get rich quick’ and ‘2-minute abs’ solutions. They start again on something new and repeat the cycle, continually giving up and starting again. The life and career of the Dabbler is a sad one, because there is no measureable improvement. As a doctor, they flit from job to job, they flit from fad diet to fad exercises, and never create any level of real success, they are always looking for the easy answer, which they never find because there isn’t one. When things get difficult the Master doesn’t lose heart. The Master understands that this is to be expected. They knuckle down, they work harder, they find a coach, they develop a new skill set, they persist until they break through the plateau and get on the next growth trajectory. They then grow until they reach the next plateau. Once again, instead of giving up they say, “To be expected” and dig in to find the next breakthrough.
Be a Master, not a Dabbler
Instead of trying a new fad repeatedly, the Master actually masters the core areas of their life and job. There is a compounding effect of living a life of Mastery and when the Master is in the later years of their lives they have significantly improved from when they were younger. They experience a life of growth and progress, and progress leads to happiness. Mastery is rare, and it is the price that must be paid for sustainable success and fulfilment; successful people do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do. Masters:
Identify a paradigm shift that is fundamental to mastering their own wellbeing
Use evidence-based framework identify changes they need to make, then to implement them consistently
Connect with themselves and re-identify why they became a doctor in the first place
Mastery requires both the desire and the skills, it’s a marathon not a sprint, so it also requires a framework to create consistency. This will not only improve how you operate as a doctor, but improve your whole lifestyle, social life and relationships.
You invested so many years to professionally become the person you are, invest a fraction of that time to master the skills to really thrive in the life you have chosen as a doctor.