Work is still bad for your health

Over the past two months, my work has been on a tear in a not-so-good way.  I’ve been clocking more hours than I ever had in my attending career.  The time I spend in the office and operating room is more intense than ever.  Ironically, I doubt that the hard work will even translate into additional year-end income.  The rationale behind such irrational aspects of medicine can only be partially explained through a PhD dissertation, but this is the life of medicine that we’ve signed up for.  Now, this post isn’t intended to be a rant session, but it does serve as data for me to reflect upon.

Longer/Strenuous Work Hours = Less Time Off

We only have so many hours in a day.  You have to rob Peter to pay Paul. Longer hours for me means that I have less time with the family, less time to clean the house, and less time to devote to the Smart Money MD website. More strenuous hours also mean that I am more exhausted when I get home.  Caffeine can only get you so far, so many of my evenings have been entirely unproductive or degraded into menial tasks like dozing off while having the television on.

Long-term this can’t be good for the psyche.  Unless you really love your job.

Someone else benefits off of your labor.

In the field of medicine, we try to cure diseases.  The more time you spend working in medicine, the greater number of people you will help. Helping people alone is a powerful feeling. I am happy every time I am able to help someone out with my medicine knowledge.

But medicine isn’t all for altruism.  We get paid to help people too.  And that pay isn’t necessarily bad.  A good paycheck is useless if you don’t have the time to enjoy it.  If you spend the bulk of your time at work, who exactly enjoys your hard-earned dollars?

No, we shouldn’t blame stay-at-home spouses or the kids! A physician’s family by default signs up for both the pains and joys of the physician member. I know plenty of partners and spouses of physicians who have equally challenging or more demanding jobs than they do. But family members also have to deal with missed recitals, holiday events, family gatherings, and other joys of being with friends and family.

The truth is that I’ve seen plenty of physician households that enjoy luxuries that probably don’t afford a significant increase in happiness and otherwise wouldn’t have been chosen if it weren’t for a good income.

Things like getting a $120,000 car instead of a $30,000 car for a four-person family. It’s bad when your trunk release in your expensive car fails to open and all of your fancy groceries spoil (yes, true story).

Image that your $100,000+ car is holding your $150 steaks in the trunk hostage in the dead of the summer.

Or getting a house so large that you need three hot water heaters in order to supply all of the faucets.

Or buying into a subdivision that requires a well-maintained lawn with grass even though you live in a drought-stricken area?

You end up throwing money unnecessarily to solve problems.

In keeping along the lines of the scenarios above, I’ve seen busy doctors throw money at their problems simply because they don’t have time to deal with them.  Ordering take-out more than four times a week is one example.  I’ve had another colleague who ended up paying for an entire hot water heater system (his was like 4 years old) because the first plumber told him that replacement was the only fix!

All of these scenarios have played through my mind as I’ve stayed late at work these past few months.  Is that something that I truly want to deal with long term?

It does, however, sound like a reminder how important maintaining your financial health is to our future.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

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  • Sorry to hear you’re in a rough patch. I think you’ve identified a good way out. I’ve been preaching Financial Independence as one solution to burnout. Not the best solution, but it might be the one that we have the most control over.

    Best,
    -PoF

    • Smart Money MD

      Thanks! Yup, that’s why recently I’ve had to limit my online presence–just too much hospital drama to deal with. Will get back on the bandwagon soon enough!

  • PICU MD

    I think many of us work not for the money but because of our personality to be work a holics. I do think looking at yourself and burn out though is important since I see those older than me burning out. I’ve always thought about what my next move is. I currently run a PICU and love what I do both clinically and administratively.

    I’ve had a few rough patches where I was doing q2 calls in the PICU. thankfully they were short. If they were sustained I think I’d really want to bow out early.

    I used to think that my next move would be moving up the administrative chain. However, after reading all these personal finance blogs (and working for a while and stashing some cash) I’ve though about whether the answer is not to move up but to move out (or at least downshift) as a I get older. We’ll see… keep up the good work.

    • Smart Money MD

      The only administrative work I do involves running the department and coordinating with my multispecialty practice–it is a nightmare. What’s worse than people outside your field telling you how to take care of your patients is those who think that somehow all doctors are oblivious to common sense. I have a “director of patient experience” who likes name dropping and claims that she decided not to add “PhD” to her name badge so it “wouldn’t look pretentious”.

      PhD in what? I have no idea, but all of the letters behind her name came from online degrees.

      I agree that you have to step back and decide what keeps you going. For me, I will help run some things if it will directly make my clinical life easier. Once I hit a safety zone of stash, I will cut back just like the other growing number of physician bloggers.