The Physician’s Pursuit of Happyness

April 14, 2007 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Many people not in the medical field have an idealized view of physicians. Somehow, by making lots of money, doctors are the happiest people around—they’ve got the perfect house, the perfect car, and 2.5 perfect American children.  What the fans of Grey’s Anatomy don’t know is that physicians have lots of personal struggles. The big 3 areas of psychosocial problems that every pre-med needs to be aware of are suicide, alcoholism, and divorce.

According to this study, doctors have a higher rate of suicide than the rest of the population.  Psychiatrists seem to take the lead among the specialties.  The dire predictions from some would have us believe that shrinks should never be left alone.  However, as far as I can tell, the suicide rate is only modestly elevated for physicians versus other occupations.

When they’re not in the OR, surgeons are out drinking themselves to death.  One author’s hospital shows that more than 7% of the residency program’s graduates become alcoholics.  Another hospital found that 14% of its employees are confirmed or suspected alcoholics. When compared to the national average for alcoholics (5%), I’d say that physicians—with their easy access to narcotics and benzos—put themselves at an unnecessary risk whenever they try to self-medicate.

Finally, realize that if you decide to pursue medicine, you’ll be at an increased risk for divorce.  According to this article, some specialties have greater than a 50% divorce rate.  Again, the psychiatrists take the lead, followed closely by surgeons.  What I find particularly surprising is that psychiatrists are supposed to be experts of communication.  Since we’re always hearing that divorce occurs because of a lack of communication, I wonder what the shrinks are doing wrong.  My personal belief is that psychiatrists are all really crazy—as in, they’re insane enough to become each others’ patients.  Shrinks believe their own nonsense to the point that they don’t realize that their marriages are quickly spiraling out of control.

From getting pulled away from home to work on patients they barely know to spending more time in the hospital than at home, the stressors that doctors face are insurmountable.  If you want to read more, Medscape provides a nice summary of physician obstacles.  While I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing medicine, I would say that you should join the Peace Corps if you want a fulfilling life without the extra baggage.



  1. LuckMC11 said,

    thats not that bad, dentists are ranked #2 with the highest rate of suicide 😮

  2. Anonymous said,

    I am not arguing here, but it seems that every profession claims having the highest rates of suicide, alcoholism and divorce. When I was doing social work, the profs claimed it and to that list I wanted to add, “overeating.”

    From I give you this, “In the end, say some researchers, occupation may not be much of a factor in suicide. Psychologists have long documented that among the top predictors for suicide are diagnosable mental disorder, co-morbid substance use, loss of social support and availability and access to a firearm.”

    No matter how great their health benefits, doctors seem as likely as social workers and psychologists to get help for alcoholism or depression when it hits and have little time to repair marriages when they hit the rocks. Seeking help can be a red flag and they don’t want to “have a history” of needing help lest anything happen that gets blamed on it and this puts them in a catagory to have less support.

    When going into the field, one has to be aware of the factors that can lead up to S, A, & D and think before they happen how they will combat them when the warning signs hit. Are they taking medicine to help them sleep or stay awake or just to get through something? (Don’t even start.) What will their options be when signs start appearing? Instead of waiting for their marriages to need fixing, they need to talk to their spouses and make sure they understand the demands of the job– if they want ten kids but the spouse is worn out with one, they need to either get house help or have less children. They need to plan how they will connect as a couple even if it’s once a year on vacation and a few long weekends a year. If they can possibly pre-plan and be aware of pitfalls in advance, they can possibly avoid them. Doctors give out the advice and prevention is the best medicine. They have to insist on having some time off and to spend their hard-earned money on hosuehold help for the little time they get off.

    So many articles talk about these problems being part of the game, but they don’t have to be. The higher powers that run the medical schools need to work on ways to solve the problems before they begin.

  3. Jennifer Turner said,

    I’m actually very surprised that psychiatry was the high ranking choice for suicide and divorce. Although at this point I don’t think anything could deter me from psychology.

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