Apr 3, 2010
So last night I saw this PBS documentary "Doctors Diaries" available here - (http://video.pbs.org/video/1114402491/).

If you haven't seen it, it "Follows the lives of seven people over two decades, as they move from Harvard Medical School to midlife." They experience a range of problems, divorce (almost all), some leave medicine, the idealist is crushed in internship, etc. Generally a very bleak albeit realistic view of the medical profession.

For those of you who have seen it, and are residents or attendings, I am curious about how closely it reflects what you have seen and observed.

I have thought a lot both prior to and after watching this documentary, about why people enter medical school, their personal traits, and their ultimate satisfaction with their choice.

First things first, I think no matter who you are, finding balance between your personal/professional life is extremely difficult, and unlikely in some specialties.

As for the people who tend to end up the most satisfied on the whole, I think they have one or more of the following, in no particular order of importance:

1. A genuine interest in science.
2. A desire to do even repetitive things well each time - a striving for perfection.
3. Actually enjoy spending time with patients.
4. Not prone to depression or sensitive to sleep cycle disruptions.
5. Social skills and network of family and friends.
6. Matching into a lifestyle specialty and having time for family and hobbies and the money to enjoy them.
7. Not given to self introspection/over thinking things, accepting systems for what they are.

As for the people who tend to end up the most unhappy on the whole, I think they have one or more of the following, in no particular order of importance:

1. Entered medical school because they couldn't figure out what else to do.
2. Entered medical school because they wanted to help people/make the world a better place.
3. Entered medical school because of money/prestige.
4. Entered medical school because of family pressure or bc they thought it would resolve personal issues.
5. Marriage to someone who is not a socioeconomic/intellectual equal.
6. A tendency to compare themselves to others.
7. A specialty that has excessive hours or low pay.
8. A free spirit/personality that doesn't fit into rigid hierarchies.

In general, I think medicine can be an excellent choice for many, but for some people it is a poor one. The difficulty is the huge expense and length of training, which means those unhappy cannot leave (bc of debt), or bc they think that they have put X years into this already and maybe it will get better in MS III or after intern year or when I'm an attending or when I go into private practice, etc etc.

What I wrote above is by no means an exhaustive list, really just some things that were floating around my head, I very much look forward to anyone else's input.


May 23, 2010
Resident [Any Field]
going to have to reserve some time this weekend to finish seeing this, 1 hour 42 minutes. everytime i see a photo or video of a corpse i always smell formaldehyde and start feeling hungry :mad: i don't know if the association is because formaldehyde makes people hungry or if anatomy lab always ran through dinner time.

anyway, i'm only 1 year out but i would have to mostly agree with your lists. there are always going to be exceptions though.


10+ Year Member
May 15, 2008
Attending Physician
Have not seen the documentary, but I agree w/much of what is on your lists.
I find that I do become unhappy if I focus on how screwed up some of our systems are, and how patients or other doctors do not appreciate what I do.
I feel more satisfied when I realize how much we can actually do for patients, medically speaking, and how far medical science has advanced even in the past 20 years or so. For example, a large heart attack or childhood leukemia were far more likely to be fatal back in the 1970s or early 1980's versus today.

I think it is not surprising that people who enter a particular career because they "didn't know what else to do" or because of family pressure often end up unhappy. You should NOT go to med school for reasons like that, because your chance of being unhappy is going to be quite high I would think. It's just too many years of training and too many long hours to do it if you don't have much passion for it.
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Feb 14, 2003
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I watched the documentary and while there are definitely some bleaks spots there are bright spots as well. It is real in showing the struggle to maintain personal/family relationships, the young idealist whose bubble is burst during internship, how people react when their patient dies. I just completed residency and there where aspects shown that have made me think about the path I will take with my career. I also thought about my experiences over the last 8 years and how I changed and grown. I think all current medical students, residents, and those considering the field should watch it.


Senior Member
15+ Year Member
Nov 30, 2003
Attending Physician
Interesting points:

The bedside central line placement with just sterile (I hope) gloves is an interesting reminder of how we've evolved the practice.

Only the 3rd year student cried after the patient died during bypass. The rest of us have lost that ability in order to be able to do our jobs.

The male student getting a bad ob/gyn evaluation.

The way internship used to be much more ancillary service task heavy. The work hours during internship.

Talking about manual disimpaction while eating.

The divorces make me very sad and make me wonder if there's hope for any of us.

An obese, smoking ER doc who can't get a job in the US?

Doctor Bagel

so cheap and juicy
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15+ Year Member
Sep 26, 2002
from the ministry of information
Attending Physician
Just watched it, and I don't know that I would entirely agree with the list of good and bad traits for medicine. For example, the guy who becomes a psychiatrist (admittedly my chosen field) is fairly introspective and appears sensitive to criticism (there's that painful neurology presentation he does). However, he ultimately winds up happy with his profession. Of course, he probably would have been less happy had he become a surgeon or an internist.

There's also the woman who does full time work for a nonprofit that's focused on changing health outcomes. She works too much and doesn't have a life outside of work (she admits this is a problem), but she's definitely a valuable contributor to medicine and is again happy in her career. The ophthalmologist is also focused on changing health delivery systems, which again is a good thing and seems to lead him to career satisfaction.

The anesthesiologist is probably the guy who most matches the positives in the initial list and is happy in his career. But maybe the list should be for anesthesiology then and not for medicine in general.

The idealistic internship is kind of a mix. She seems overall happy with her job and with her family life, although admits she wishes she could work less. Overall, though, she appears pretty active in studying and addresses health care issues, so it's good she's in the profession.

And of course we can now get to the ER guy, who seems to be the most striking for all of us. Overall, he says he's happy with his job, and I can't see him not doing it again. He doesn't seem to be overly troubled by irrational systems, but he's got this not following the rules thing which does cause him problems. Being married 4 times is just kind of weird, and maybe there was more going on with that job he lost than he let on. Who knows? Either way, I suspect he would encounter all these difficulties in whatever career he picked.
Last edited:
May 3, 2010
Medical Student
Interesting documentary but getting kind of dated now.

Boston Med makes medicine look way cooler (cooler than it really is sometimes), but still manages to show how it impacts peoples personal lives (divorce, dating, inter-professional conflicts, parenthood, etc..).
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