Happiness in Residency and Internship

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This is a post that I wrote for Lifeinthefastlane, one of the coolest emergency medicine blogs on the net.

What happens whenif you ask people about their goals in life?  They will come up with answers like: I want to be successful, I want to find the love of my life, I want to climb the Mount Everest, etc. If you continue to ask, “Why?” they will tell you: because then I will be able to buy a house, have a family, etc. If you continue to ask, “Why is that important?” many times, most of them will come up with the answer, “Because it will make me happy.”  So if happiness is the ultimate goal, what can doctors do to attain it? Reflecting about on this issue, I stumbled upon two interesting studies that I would like to share with you. The first study looked at emotional distress in internship and residency in 122 study participants. Residents were asked about the most common stressors in their lives. Here is what they said:

1. Fatigue/long hours (N=82)

2. Feelings of professional inadequacy (N=67)

3. Loneliness (N=55)

4. Competitive milieu (N=48)

5. Family or marital problems (N=33)

6. Insufficient supervision (N=29)

7. Financial difficulty (N=8)

8. Problem with drug/alcohol abuse (N=5)

Several authors have defined happiness as an individual’s ability to cope with the stresses of everyday life, as a balance between positive and negative forces. So in an  attempt to find those “happiers” as she calls them, Maj Eron Manusov interviewed 14 first-year residents about what made them happy, what motivated them. In the course of her study, she could identify three major happiers:

1. The pursuit and achievement of goals

2. Having a positive attitude: being able to list positive aspects to negative situations

3. Relationships: with partner, family, friends and coworkers

According to Manusov, focusing on one of these happiers could attenuate the negative feelings associated with many of the stressors (e.g., she recommends that doctors who feel professionally inadequate or who suffer from the competitive milieu should tell themselves that this makes them strive to learn and that this is part of the learning process).

Surveys  have found that physicians’ job satisfaction has steadily declined over recent years. In the ‘70s, less than 15% of doctors reported doubts as to whetherif medicine was the right job decision for them. This number has since more than doubled. In the last 10 years, between 30 to and 40% of doctors reported that they would not choose medicine again as a career (link).

It seems like as though stressors have accumulated and happiers might have gotten lost on the way to modern healthcare. We would be interested to read about your thoughts on this topic!

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