American doctors are miserable. With crazy hours, no pay, and thousands of dollars in debt, 54% of physicians rate their morale as somewhat or very negative and only 37% describe their feelings about the future of the medical profession as positive. In 2016 The Physicians Foundation put together the 2016 Survey of America’s Physicians Practice Patterns & Perspectives. They concluded that the US has a problem with overloading physicians with unnecessary paperwork, regulations, and pre-authorization requirements for procedures patients need. With doctors in unhappy work situations, one can only assume patient care suffers. So, as an aspiring doctor, the future looked very dim; job satisfaction for American health care professionals is just ridiculously low.
Could Danish doctors be happier? It’s a simple idea that one of the happiest countries in the world would also have some happy doctors. While in Denmark, I collected qualitative data, talking to doctors and asking them about their working conditions and job satisfaction. I spoke to Dr. Palle Toft an anesthesiologist at Odense University Hospital who told me about the process of becoming a doctor. Danish doctors first complete a three-year bachelor’s degree in medicine and then a three-year master’s degree. After that they get their white coats and complete a clinical foundation year and are offered optional specialty training. Dr. Toft told me one of his students even had a child during medical school, took six months paid maternity leave and then re-enrolled, and he never questioned her decision.
Dr. Ulrik Stoltze, a Gastrointestinal Surgeon at Herlev University Hospital, told me about what it’s like being a resident. They can then expect thirty-seven hour weeks with one night shift and get one day off every six days. They’ll make an average of $5,250 a month with a required 4 week paid leave. The best part? They’ll be debt free with a healthy work-life balance. However, I also learned that it’s not all smiles. When speaking to Dr. Dorthe Olsen, a General Practitioner in Åarhus, she talked about the stress of being responsible for 16,000 patients and being a “gatekeeper” for their secondary and tertiary healthcare systems (hospitals, specialists, etc.). I learned that like the US, Denmark has a shortage of doctors which is burdening some communities, especially in rural areas.
This grant gave me the remarkable ability to talk to Danish doctors and really listen to their hopes and aspirations as well as their toughest days. I am so thankful to all the doctors I mentioned, as well as Dr. Wendy Schou, Dr. Katrine Emmertsen, Dr. Julie Harbjerg, Dr. Sofie Arup, and Dr. Mia Ansbjerg whom I also spoke to. My next step is collecting quantitative data by replicating the 2016 Survey of America’s Physicians Practice Patterns & Perspectives and distributing it through Qualtrics and connections I made abroad. This will all cumulate in a larger research project on the state of health care systems globally. The data will be incorporated as a variable of health care success dependent on doctor job satisfaction. Radical liberal views about health care in the US are widely accepted in Denmark. To many Americans, universal health care carries a hefty federal price tag. I want my research to show that universal health care can be more efficient and cost effective while saving the 45,000 people that die each year because they don’t get to a doctor when they should.