If you’ve always been the organized, science-y type, becoming a doctor or nurse might have crossed your mind more than a time or two. What’s more, the way that doctors, nurses and other medical professionals are portrayed on TV might make you think it’s a noble profession marked by interesting cases, fun (albeit slightly neurotic) co-workers, and patients whose problems are always solved within the span of an hour.
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In other words, you’ve been completely delusional about the real world of medicine.
If you’re considering a career in the medical field, you may want to get all the facts before you start taking pre-requisites or even shelling out money for your medical school applications. Working in the medical field is decidedly not glamorous, not all that fun, and can even be a threat to your health.
To make things even more clear, here are some insane facts that can help you get a better picture of the reality of working in the medical field.
1. A High Suicide Rate
Whether it’s the long hours, the pressure, the isolation or some other factor, the truth is that doctors kill themselves at an alarming rate. According to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 300 to 400 doctors commit suicide every year. That’s a rate of about one doctor per day in the United States. Often, it’s residents or other trainees who are the ones committing suicide. While the causes are not always clear, the high rate is attributed at least in part to the fact that because of their profession, doctors have a stigma against seeking mental health treatment.
2. Insane Hours
While some medical professionals get away with having a relatively normal schedule that includes a 9-to-5 shift, people still get sick in the middle of the night. People still have crises on holidays, weekends and at other inopportune times. With that comes a need for medical professionals of all types to be there as needed. Some people live with a pager attached to their hips, waiting for the next call in the wee hours of the morning. Others put in extremely long hours during training or during times of need.
Perhaps the worst of it falls on medical residents. Recent recommendations from the Student National Medical Association recommended placing limits on residents’ hours, including a maximum of 24 hours of work at a single stretch. Before, medical residents were often working as many as 36 hours at a time, and according to JAMA, 6 of 7 surgical residents reported falling asleep at the wheel on their way to their work shift. Would you want someone that sleep-deprived operating on your body? It might have been a big shift to reduce that to just 24 hours, but the reality is that there are still very long days involved, which can wreak havoc on your body and mind.
3. People Die and It's Your Fault
Whether it’s due to sleep deprivation, oversight, too many cases at one time or simple human error, the plain fact is that medical mistakes happen all the time. About 98,000 people die in hospitals every year in the United States due to preventable error, according to an article published on the Health website. With statistics like that, it’s only a matter of time before you, the medical professional, have a death on your conscience.
On top of the emotional toll, you may have to defend your position should a patient’s family sue you for malpractice. And speaking of that, malpractice insurance isn’t cheap.
4. Education is Ridiculously Expensive
Another thing that’s ridiculously expensive? Medical school. It takes about 10 years for you to become a full-fledged doctor who’s earning a full-time salary -- and that’s time during which you won’t be bringing in much money. That means you’ll have to find another way to pay your living expenses while you’re learning, as well as find a way to pay for your student loans. The average cost of medical school is about $166,750, according to CBS MoneyWatch, which turns out to be about $419,000 when you factor in the number of years it takes the average person to pay off the loan. Factor in your lost wages at a moderate annual salary of $50,000, and you’re looking at a $1 million expense for going to medical school. Granted, many doctors earn more than $200,000 per year, but while you’re waiting for that holy grail of a salary, you’re going to go into some serious debt.
5. You Might Become a Drug Addict
Not all medical TV shows display the glamorous side of working in the medical profession. Take Nurse Jackie, for example, the show centered around the middle-aged nurse who’s addicted to prescription medications. She even goes so far as to have an affair with a hospital pharmacist to feed her habit.
While that’s fiction, it’s not far off. According to a review by USA Today, about 100,000 medical professionals in the U.S. are abusing or are dependent on prescription drugs -- and some even go so far as to steal from patients to get their fix. In the worse cases, health care workers have been caught injecting themselves with drugs and filling the syringes back up with saline -- and in turn, infecting dozens of people with Hepatitis. Not nice.
Further, doctors are also more likely to be dependent on alcohol than the rest of the population. According to a study published on the JAMA Surgery website, about 13.9 percent of male surgeons were addicted or dependent on alcohol in 2012, while about 25.6 percent of female surgeons were addicted or dependent.
6. Doctors are Fat
Whether it’s the stress, the long hours, the lack of time to prepare quality food or something else, here’s another insane fact: The majority of doctors are fat. About 53 percent of physicians are considered overweight or obese, as of 2014. Sure, they are well aware of the health benefits of maintaining a "normal" weight -- including lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, as well as lowered risk of depression -- but apparently, that’s not enough to keep them at a normal weight.
So on top of being depressed, suicidal, drug-addicted and in debt, you may be overweight too.
7. You Might Catch Something
Health care workers are at an increased risk of contracting any number of diseases and ailments that they come in contact with. It might be something as simple as getting sneezed on and catching a common cold -- or it could be as serious as getting stuck with a needle that’s contaminated with HIV or Hepatitis. It’s a risk you take when you work in the medical field, but still, the CDC and other agencies recommend a long list of vaccinations for health care workers, on top of the standard ones that most people get. If you’re afraid of needles or you’re terrified of catching the latest virus, this is most likely not the career field for you.
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While not all of these shocking things are necessarily going to happen to you should you decide to enter the medical profession, it’s always good to know what the risks are so that you can take steps to prevent them.
Are you still considering a career in the medical field? Do you think the positives of being a doctor exceed these insane drawbacks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.