Dear Prudence

Help! I’m a Medical Professional, and I’m Starting to Hate My Patients.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. Why do I hate everyone?: I’ve worked in the medical field for almost 20 years—and I find that I’m tired of it. I hate the patients, my co-workers, and management.

I feel stuck. I’m sick of dealing with people who are rude to me, when I’m one of the people paying for their stay in the hospital because they don’t have insurance. I find I’m less and less sympathetic to people’s problems. This distresses me. This is the field I’ve chosen to dedicate my life to. I also have an extreme anxiety disorder, so thinking about starting over in another field fills me with dread. I don’t know what to do—can you offer any suggestions?

A: It sounds like you’re experiencing a significant case of burnout that’s preventing you from doing your job effectively. Regardless of whether you personally like your patients or approve of their choices, it’s not good for you—or them—if you operate on a basis of contempt and “I’m paying for your medical treatment,” especially when no one should have to go bankrupt simply because they are sick or injured and can’t afford insurance.

If you’re currently seeing a therapist, I encourage you to spend more time talking about how to manage the overwhelming sense of dread that arises when you contemplate changing fields. If you’re not, I think you should consider seeing one! What you’re describing doesn’t sound workable in the long term, and I think it would be better for both you and the people you work with if you figure out an alternate career move. It may be that you don’t have to switch fields entirely—you could look for another job within your current organization where you don’t have to interact with patients, something that’s lower-stress and doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed and resentful all the time.