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.