MedicinePersonal Development

There’s a hidden dark side to being a doctor

Seeing my cousins go through medical school and now working in hospital has been an absolutely eye opening experience. On the outside they seem to have everything all together. They passed medical school with flying colours and now worked in a job where they are dealing with life and death situations daily. They have been to hell back and if you look at them they always have this smile plastered across their face that oozes confidence. It was as if the whole experience of medical school and working in the stressful environment of hospital didn’t even phase them.
HOWEVER, appearances are often deceptive.

Upon speaking to my cousin about his experience of medical school and now as a doctor, he shared with me his struggles of maintaining his relationships whilst in medical school, enduring a crippling depression and desperately trying to find a balance between life and work. Since doctors are always in the position of helping to improve the mental and physical wellbeing of others, no one really takes a minute to think about the health of our doctors.

Mental health of doctors

According to a national mental health survey of more than 14,000 medical students and doctors conducted by Beyond Blue in 2013 it revealed that:
• 1 in 5 medical students and 1 in 10 doctors had suicidal thoughts in the past year
• 47.5% of young doctors aged 18-30 years reported emotional exhaustion and 45.8% reported cynicism.
• 26.8% of doctors and medical students found it difficult to balance between work and personal responsibilities.
If you are a doctor or medical student and find yourself struggling to cope with stress and maintain an optimum work-life balance, the following pieces of advice may prove to be invaluable for you. Your journey to building your perfect lifestyle as a doctor/medical student begins here.


If you are finding that as a doctor you are becoming emotionally exhausted and overly stressed, have suicidal thoughts, a cynical outlook on life or even dread waking up to face another day of work, the first thing you need to do to improve your mental health is SEEK HELP.
Do not be afraid to seek help. We are all human beings with our own faults and flaws and it is perfectly okay to seek assistance.
If you are a younger doctor, talk to your director of clinical training. If you are a student, talk to your university lecturers or tutors. They are here to help you and look after your physical and mental wellbeing. If you are uncomfortable with speaking with either, it can be as simple as talking to a trusted friend or a family member about the very real challenge in your life right now.
Whoever you decide to talk to make sure you are completely transparent with them. Tell them everything about your situation including your thoughts, feelings and what you have been doing to cope. By doing this you are recognising that you need help and you want to build a better lifestyle for yourself. This is going to be your first step in achieving the lifestyle you have always dreamed of as a doctor.

2. Get your non-work priorities straight – there is more to life than your career

Honestly ask yourself right now. What do you want in life outside of medicine?
It is important to have passions and interests outside of your profession. It is essentially one of the keys to achieving a lifestyle that makes you a well-rounded and balanced human being.

For example:
a) Do you want to spend more time with your children or significant other?
b) Do you want to be able to see and experience the world?
c) Do you want to create memories that last a lifetime and get away with your friends/family for a weekend?

Whatever it is, it is important to realise that you have other things that are important in your life other than your career.
Once you have identified the things that you really want out of life or the things you really want to do, I want you to write these things down on a piece of paper. Get this piece of paper and stick it somewhere you are going to see it all the time. Alternatively, make a note on your smartphone or laptop and make it your screensaver. The point is, you are going to make it really clear to yourself what you want in life other than being a doctor.
The next step after making your list is to dedicate time in your calendar to fulfilling your passions or completing the things you always wanted to do. Take note that by putting it in your calendar you are 100% committing to what you want to do. I want you to be able to feel genuinely happy and excited about the awesome things you are going to be doing other than work. This will give you something to look forward, help you maintain your relationships and help you live a more fulfilling life.

3. Learn to say NO

In life as a doctor or medical student things are going to come up unexpectedly and your workplace will need you to pick up some extra responsibilities. If you are asked to stay overtime one day to cover an absent colleague’s patient load or asked to take on extra call know this…
You have an option to say NO.
If you have scheduled something in for yourself beforehand, then you have a perfectly valid reason for not doing it. Remember your personal life is important too and you want to strike a perfect work-life balance. Sometimes this means saying “no” when extra tasks are thrust upon you.
So there we have it!
Remember these key things when seeking an optimum work-life balance and health as a doctor:
1. Seek help if you feel overwhelmed.
2. Identify what you want in life outside of medicine and dedicate time in your calendar to it.
3. Learn to say “no” if it interferes with activities you have previously scheduled in for yourself.

So take these pieces of advice, apply them and I promise that you will start to see positive changes in your life. I wish you the best of luck in your life and career as a doctor!

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Matthew Do

Matthew Do

Matthew Do is an undergraduate student at The University Of Western Sydney in Australia. He has a passion for medicine and is a hopeful candidate for post-graduate studies in the area.