Depression and Dissatisfaction Among Healthcare Workers

Depression and Dissatisfaction Among Healthcare Workers
Depression and Dissatisfaction Among Healthcare Workers

A few years ago, Time Magazine published a list of the “best professions in America,” naming Audiology number one.1 According to the study, audiologists enjoy, “low levels of stress, a good median salary, and faster than average job growth.” Sounds great, right? Except that the study failed to measure job satisfaction or life satisfaction, and that’s a key factor given that many types of healthcare workers are making money up the wazoo, experiencing career growth, and at the same time, suffering from severe depression.

Take Registered Nurses, for instance. According to a study published by Business Insider 2016, RNs have the 16th best job in healthcare, with annual salaries averaging about $70,000 and projected growth of 16 percent a year.2 US News says RNs have the 22nd best job out of every possible career in the US (not just in healthcare) in 2017.3

And yet, studies show that nurses experience depression at twice the rate of the general population. While nine percent of the general population experiences clinical depression at any given time, 18 percent of nurses are depressed. In fact, some sources say nursing ranks first among all the professions for rates of depression. Rates of suicide among female nurses in Great Britain outpace all other professions by 25 percent, according to a 2017 study by the British Office for National Statistics.4 The study found that female health workers in general had higher suicide rates by 24 percent than women at large. Sources in the US believe the situation is similar in the States.

Plus, a study by Medscape found that only 56 percent of RNs and 48 percent of LPNs would choose nursing as a career if they had to do all over again.5 Satisfaction rises slightly for advanced practice nurses (nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and nurse anesthesiologists), 60 percent of whom report satisfaction with their career choice. The slight margin might have to do with the fact that APNs are, at least, happier with the money they get.6 Nurse anesthesiologists, for instance, earn a median salary of $174,000 annually.

The statistics for physicians may be even worse. As we’ve written before, “the fact is that medical doctors experience burnout and depression at alarming rates, in spite of their healthy salaries and career mobility. Cardiologists, for instance, earn an average of $360,000 a year, but almost 40 percent report being miserably unhappy in their careers.7

Doctors commit suicide at six times the rate found in the general population, with even modest estimates reporting that 30 percent of doctors suffer from depression. Studies of physicians in private practice have found burnout rates exceeding 60 percent.“

Other sub-groups within the medical profession haven’t been as well-studied as RNs or physicians, but at least some sources say depression is also rampant among lower-level healthcare workers. At first blush, it might seem a no-brainer that dealing with disease and dying all day, day after day, would undermine happiness, and in fact that might be a trigger for some. This is particularly true when healers have to witness a run of patients who don’t get better under their watch. There’s also the fact that not all patients are “nice,” and in fact, patients sometimes act abusively toward their healers, with no repercussions. They are, after all, “sick.”

But miserable patients and the misery they suffer are only part of the story. For instance, in the case of nursing, there’s often a competitive culture of survival, according to the publication Minority Nurse.8

“It also doesn’t help that nursing culture is ruthless by nature,” the publication says. “It shouldn’t be a culture in which only the strong survive. Nurses should not be proud of eating their young. Some managers brag, ‘If you can make it on my floor, you can make it anywhere.’”

Experts say that nurses adapt to the pressures by staying constantly in motion, working to the point of exhaustion. This is reflected in the fact that it’s somewhat normal in the profession to work double shifts, and remember, nursing shifts are 12-hours long (which, insiders say, typically turns out to be 13 or 14 hours), already a punishing work day. Plus, nurses often work night shifts, or rotating shifts, where they work during the day for a few weeks and then nights for a few weeks, and then back again. As we’ve written before, night shift workers tend to incur higher rates of disease than the norm, as do those on rotating schedules. These unconventional schedules disrupt normal biorhythms and interfere with good sleep, healthy eating, and time with family and friends, which in turn can affect mood. Plus, back injuries and other types of injuries are common, given the physical demands of the job.

Doctors have some special reasons for depression, too. For one thing, many are buried under a huge burden of debt. The average doctor newly graduated from medical school owes $207,000 in student loans.9 That’s more than the $190,000 the average first-time homebuyer owes in mortgage debt—a crushing burden.10 Plus, the HMO and medical billing system have created an administrative nightmare that dictates, in many cases, how medicine must be practiced, and the guidelines encourage profit rather than time with patients. Thus, we have the 10-minute appointment, which hardly allows physicians to get to know their patients. While patients might complain that their doctors rush, the physicians themselves often hate the system and teeter on the edge of burnout.

It’s ironic given that medicine still has a certain sheen, as a profession—so many parents want their kids to become doctors, still­—and yet an astonishing nine out of 10 practicing physicians would not recommend the profession to young hopefuls. That’s a startling testament to the fact that something is terribly wrong with the system. Along the same lines, only half of all primary care physicians are satisfied with their jobs, and in fact, 43 percent are considering retiring within five years because they aren’t happy with the healthcare system. The only medical specialties where the large majority of practitioners report job satisfaction are oncology, with a 70 percent satisfaction ranking (working with cancer patients, go figure), and dermatology, at 80 percent.

Other reasons physicians cite for being unhappy in their careers might surprise some—including the public’s belief that doctors want patients to be sick, and also, the public perception that doctors are paid way too much. There’s also the fact that many patients mistakenly believe that doctors have control over things like lab fees and drug costs. And of course, like nurses, doctors in at least some specialties work too many hours and get too little sleep, and they may suffer huge guilt over mistakes that undermine patient health.

The bottom line is that doctoring and nursing ain’t what they once were, and if you’re considering a career in either discipline, you might at least conduct a study of which specialties are the most conducive to mental health and happiness before committing and take an open-eyed look at the realities of practicing traditional medicine in today’s world.

Or then again, you could consider going holistic.

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