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Health Professional Lives - Joys, Stress, Rewards


Susan Eisner gets what it’s like to be a health professional or to work in health care. 
The Joys and Rewards of Practicing, Teaching, and Working in Medicine …
… are many.  Doctors and nurses, other health professionals, and faculty members  truly save patients and improve the quality of their lives.  They’re intellectually stimulated and on the cutting edge of science. They know they make a difference.  And they prosper financially and take good care of themselves and their families.  And other important players on the health care team - from the janitor to dietary workers to admissions clerks and technicians - contribute greatly to the health of their communities.

Yet Working in Medicine is Difficult …
…  especially in big cities like New York.  There’s lots of stress, fatigue, difficult patients and demanding supervisors. Sometimes different professions don't get along.  And mounting debt from medical training, the pressure to succeed, and fitting in a personal and social life is difficult.  There’s also less autonomy due to HMO’s, and more patient lawsuits.  And emotionally?  Doctors commit suicide twice as often as other people, and have higher rates of failed or unhappy marriages.   For nurses and other health professionals, staff shortages can create insurmountable workloads.  And support staff can get it from all ends – from doctors, nurses, patients, families, etc. 

Does Any of This Describe You?

“I’m the Chairman and Residency Program Director of Surgery and a member of the Quality Assurance Committee.  One of my best attending surgeons is scheduled for surgery at 7 am.  It gets delayed.  All the instruments aren’t set up on time and information on the patient is missing.  The surgeon gets frustrated and screams at the nurse – not his first outburst.  Meanwhile, I just return from a QA meeting, with more new regulations that require more time, paperwork and training.  The Nursing Director walks in with a second complaint from the OR nurse who got yelled at.  But the surgery got done – very successfully.  He has so much skill!  So do most of my physicians.  We perform miracles here every day.  But one resident is often late and showed up smelling like alcohol.  Another problem!  And I’m tired.  My new baby – I love that kid – keeps me up at night.  Stress?  Yep, that’s the name of the game around here…”

“I’m a first year resident physician.  I got into the program of my dreams!  I love what I’m learning and I’m really helping patients.  I just moved here, and my family is far away.  Sometimes I get lonely.  And it’s sinking in that unlike in medical school, now I have all this real responsibility.  I can kill someone if I put the decimal point in the wrong place on a prescription.  There’s also lots of cultural changes to adapt to.  My patients often don’t speak English, and I don’t speak their language.  And sleep?  What is that?  Working on patients after 20 hours awake can be tough.  I don’t want to admit this to anyone, but I make near-miss errors occasionally.  And God knows I’ll get yelled at by my attending if he finds out about it!  And my husband and kid?  I love them dearly.  But they complain I’m rarely home, and when I am, all I want to do is sleep.  Wow – as much as I love residency, I had no idea how much stress there was going to be…”

“I’m a nurse.  I love my job.  I’m really good at making patients feel comfortable and cared for.  There are a few doctors, though, that think I’m below them.  I get treated disrespectfully, and that makes my job have more stress.  And there’s lots of emergencies, and unfortunately, not enough nurses to handle it all.  And it’s frustrating when the doctors are busy too, and don’t answer their pagers.  I also deal with many family members, who are mostly supportive, but some get very upset or angry.  And it’s not my fault!  I’m also trying to lose some weight and eat better, so I need to find new ways to handle the stress.  I always wanted to be a nurse, but now, I look forward to getting home to take care of me instead…"


"I'm a third year medical student.  I can't believe how much I learned in the past two years.  Now I'm in the clinics working on patients.  It's great!  And scary!  These are real people - it's not just in the books anymore!  The responsibility is sinking in.  And sometimes life is a little degrading.  I'm on the bottom of the totem pole, and people aren't always nice when they tell me what to do.  But I guess this is what you go through as you move up the ranks.  Eventually I'll be the doctor giving orders to the new medical students..."


“I’m a unit clerk.  I’m really good at dealing with the public, patients and the medical professionals.  It’s my job to keep things organized.  I’m on the phone, handling paperwork, and juggling many things at once - lots of stress.   I love being busy and involved.  But some days, especially during emergencies, I get yelled at by everyone.  The doctors, the nurses, the patients, and family members – they think things are my fault.  And because I’m lower in rank, I don’t get much recognition.  Nurses celebrate “Nurses’ Week” every year.  What do unit clerks get?  No celebrations.  Sometimes I feel invisible around here…"

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