Why Doctors Are Unhappy

Unhappy DoctorAs 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 everyday.

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

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation (formerly 2400 Expert), a #1 bestselling SAT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC's Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class.