As the great physician Hippocrates once said, “A life so short, a craft so long to learn”, being a doctor is undoubtedly one of the most difficult professions of the world simply because it fuels and fixes what makes the world so special in the first place – life.

What Hippocrates did not comment on, however, is the emotional baggage that comes with being a doctor. What are some words that one would tend to associate with the word “doctor”? Stoic, emotionless and stern, perhaps, just to name a few. Contrary to the media’s portrayal of the medical profession, however, doctors do indeed go through a huge wheel of emotions; some are formative and some take time getting used to.

1. Overwhelmed

The first culture shock that most doctors receive is the realisation that medicine in the real world is very much different from the simulation programmes that they have been practising on. Problems in the real world are much more complex, come in combinations, and require more than just textbook knowledge to tackle and ameliorate. Of course, this sense of culture shock is a feeling that applies to most jobs, but in a profession that deals with life and death on a daily basis, surely it will be magnified.

2. Frustrated

This is a feeling that must come every so often for doctors. Often, this could be due to the difficulties they face in identifying the root cause of an illness, procuring a specific drug and / or difficulty in getting the compliance of stubborn patients.

Even the cyclical natures of the job can be some factors that leave doctors bridling. While the cinematic portrayal of doctors being annoyed and argumentative all the time is exaggerated and intentionally dramatic, it is not entirely untrue that frustration is an inevitable emotion that comes with the job.

3. Lonely

While doctors see patients all the time, it is still sad but true that their profession is one that very much lacks meaningful human interaction. Aside from being desk-bound and sitting in front of screens of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) all day, they would still have to take time outside working hours to hone and improve their craft.

Medical standards and strategies are ever-changing and constantly being improved. For doctors to constantly strive to provide high quality healthcare, a lot of reading would have to be done. That often means that they spend hours not socialising outside of work.

4. Exhausted

Similarly to loneliness, exhaustion is another consequence that springs from the long working hours of the profession. Some doctors work up to 40 hours consecutively, and 65-80 hours of work a week during their residency. For surgeons and doctors working in Accident and Emergency (A&E), the numbers might get even worse. The lack of sleep means that, ironically, doctors put themselves at higher risk of health problems. Yet they still put on a smile and exercise professionalism every single day.

5. Empathetic

A 2011 study of 800 patients found that only 53% felt that their doctors were empathetic. Many surveyed also expressed that they would be more likely to consult a doctor that was affable and had a personal touch.

While some doctors may not look empathetic on the outside, being in a profession that requires practitioners to put themselves into the shoes of their patients to assess the best possible solution, the question is not whether they are empathetic, but how willing they are to show it. This is perhaps one of the biggest dilemmas of a doctor, and striking the balance is easier said than done.

6. Satisfied

Satisfaction – the gift that keeps them going. As with any other job, it takes just one special or momentous occurrence to render all prior struggles invalid. This feeling is undoubtedly what drives doctors to work hard. When long working hours translate to improved conditions of their patients and in certain cases, bring their patients out of the “danger zone”, that is what makes the job worthwhile.

Hospitals often encourage patients and their families to write cards and thank you notes for doctors for this cause to provide the affirmation that the general public forgets that doctors need. Just like us, doctors are humans too, and surely a little gratitude for their contributions is the least we can do to thank them. MIMS

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Doctors and Medical Students More Prone to Depression, Suicide
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