*This post first appeared on The PediaBlog on April 6, 2017.


Your Happy Doctor



I remember when I was very young telling people I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. My father was a doctor, so too my closest uncles. All loved the intellectual challenges of medicine and doctored because they cared about helping others. Sure, they fought some battles in their days — with hospitals and insurers and others in what has come to be known as the “medical-industrial complex” — but they didn’t complain very much or for very long. Modern medicine was progressing rapidly then, as it is now, and they needed to keep up with every advancement in knowledge and technology. If they didn’t directly brainwash me into wanting to become a doctor, they influenced me indirectly with their positive attitudes for the profession.

With social media what it is, it isn’t surprising to read a lot about how terrible it is to be a doctor nowadays, how unfair insurance companies are regarding reimbursement, how the government should or shouldn’t get involved in the health insurance business, how adoption of electronic health records is destroying doctor-patient relationships, how difficult it is to achieve a satisfying work-life balance, and on and on. (Really, it goes on and on!) Are doctors today really that unhappy?

Well the answer is yes and no, but according to a recent survey by the American Medical Association, mostly no. Robert Preidt reports that 9 out of 10 doctors said they were happy to be doctors attending to an altruistic calling:

“Physicians may be discouraged at times, but almost every single one of us remains confident in our decision to enter medicine and continues to be driven by our desire to help our patients,” Dr. Andrew Gurman, AMA president, said in a news release from the association.

Three-quarters of respondents said helping people was the main reason for the career choice.

 And, being a doctor seems to be a calling — nearly three-quarters of physicians said they knew before they were 20 years old that they wanted to be a doctor. One-third knew they wanted to be a doctor before they reached their teens, the survey revealed.

Almost two-thirds of doctors said they would encourage others to enter the field of medicine.


It’s important to point out that 96% of the survey respondents were under 40 years old, so maybe not enough time has passed for them to have become crotchety and sclerotic in their attitudes. It’s encouraging that only 13% of them “regularly questioned their decision to practice medicine,” with burnout the biggest reason why.

I suspect that pediatricians are among the happiest doctors of all, given the age of the population for which we dedicate our professional lives. I think most of us would do it all over again if we had the choice. It’s not all happy, happy, however. As we will see tomorrow on The PediaBlog, for too many physicians, stress can lead to anxiety and depression — and very unhealthy, sometimes tragically destructive ways of managing it.


(Google Images — Robin Williams as Patch Adams)