If you think that a fat salary is all you need to be happy, think again. Many high-paid professions are also high-stress—and highly likely to lead to misery.
In the new memoir Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, Sandeep Jauhur does a lot more than trace his own dissatisfaction with the medical profession. The cardiologist makes the case that doctors, once the proud, well-paid, contented pillars of communities around the country, are deeply unhappy with what’s been happening in the field of medicine—and that many regret going into the profession. He points to data such as a survey in which only 6% of physicians described morale on the job as positive, and in an excerpt recently published in the Wall Street Journal, Jauhur references the quotes of other doctors venting their frustrations with their choice of career:
I feel like a pawn in a moneymaking game for hospital administrators. There are so many other ways I could have made my living and been more fulfilled. The sad part is we chose medicine because we thought it was worthwhile and noble, but from what I have seen in my short career, it is a charade.
At least it’s a highly paid charade. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicians dominate the nation’s top 20 highest-paying occupations, with median pay over $150,000 per year for a wide range of medical specialties. (Anesthesiologists seem to do the best of all, with median salaries of $431,977.) Even so, the majority of doctors say their pay has been flat or on the decline for years. More importantly, they’re unhappy.
As Jauhur puts it, “American doctors are suffering from a collective malaise,” for reasons ranging from bureaucratic hassles to increased pressure to see more and more patients. Hence surveys showing that up to 40% of current doctors would choose a different career if they had to do it all over again, and even more say they would try to talk their kids out of a career in medicine. Physicians also tend to have unusually high suicide rates. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, male physicians commit suicide at a 70% higher rate compared with other professions, and female physicians die by their own hands at shocking clip that’s 250% to 400% higher than women in other lines of work.
Doctors are hardly the only workers whose high salaries are perhaps offset by a high-pressure environment and general discontent in the field. Here are four other well-paid professions in which practitioners are likely to be unhappy.
Junior Investment Banker
In his new book, Young Money, author Kevin Roose follows eight recent college grads through their first years in investment banking. What he found isn’t pretty.
“It’s a terrible labor practice, and the banks are getting wise to that,” Roose told Vox, referring to the 120-hour weeks new bankers are forced to work. The load is so unbearable that even high salaries—base starting around $75,000, with bonuses that could double that, and the potential to make millions down the line—aren’t attracting the number of recruits banks are used to. This January, institutions like Credit Suisse and Citigroup moved to limit some employees’ hours, and other banks have raised junior bankers’ pay to compensate for their grueling schedules.
“The banks had this social contract with young people: Give us two years of your lives, don’t see your friends, chain yourself to your desk, but we will give you this glorious life where you’re making many times what you could ever imagine,” Roose said. “But now that contract is being broken.”
What advice does he have for prospective finance workers looking to make a fast buck? “I’d tell them first that it will make them truly miserable, the kind of miserable it could take years to recover from, and that it also no longer has that imprimatur. It can actually hinder you.”
Being in sales in hard. Being in charge of sales is even harder. That’s why, despite its high average paycheck—$123,150 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics—sales managers still landed on Forbes’ Unhappiest Jobs of 2014 list, which used self-reported job reviews from CareerBliss. What’s the problem? Complaints run the gamut from constant pressure to feelings of boredom and emptiness. That’s not a great combination.
Dentist & Lawyer
The median annual salary for dentists is around $155,000. First-year law associates command salaries of around $160,000 in big cities like New York and Chicago. In both cases, however, the money doesn’t seem to correlate to happiness. The consensus of research usually puts dentists at or near the top of the list for professions with the highest suicide rates (though some question the data). Lawyers, known for high suicide rates themselves, were found to have the highest rate of depression among 100 professions included in a much-cited Johns Hopkins study. In fact, attorneys are 3.6 times more likely than average to be depressed.
In 2013, associate attorneys topped Forbes’ “Unhappiest Jobs” list, just ahead of (or below?) much lower-paying gigs like customer service associate and store clerk. Whereas those poorly paid workers are most unhappy with limited growth potential and unexciting workplace cultures, associate attorneys say they are most frustrated by long hours, the pressure to constantly be billing clients during those long hours, and pay that’s paltry compared to partners in their law firms.
Dentists are often unhappy because they graduate with huge student loans (often around $200,000), and their jobs largely come with all the pressures—but not as much prestige—of running your own medical practice. It can’t help either of these career fields that everybody jokes about lawyers, and about how much they hate dentists.