In a newspaper interview last year , celebrated Japanese surgeon, Dr. Koichi Ito, remarked that most doctors live long , healthy lives . Speaking to Judit Kawaguchi of the Japan Times , he said “ The joy we get from helping and healing people keeps most of us doctors healthy and working until late in life. The beauty of our profession is that we can help people as long as we are healthy ourselves. My father is 87 and works full-time. So are my professors in Japan and those in the United States. My mentor, Dr. Edwin L. Kaplan at the University of Chicago Medical Center, is 74 and performs 220 surgeries a year.”
My initial reaction was that there was a lot of truth in his remarks . I remembered 97-year-old Dr. Shigeoki Hinohara , a Japanese physician who still puts in a full day’s work and who seems to be gathering steam as he grows older. In my post in March 2009, I mentioned that Dr. Hinohara “sees patients at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo ,teaches at St.Luke’s College of Nursing and is on the Board of Trustees of both institutions. Since the age of 75, he has published 150 books , one of which , ” Living Long ,Living Good” , has sold more than 1.2 million copies.”
With examples like that of Dr. Hinohara , it is difficult not to agree with Dr. Ito. But , to change the topic slightly, ” Do doctors live linger than the rest of us ?”
I really don’t think so . For one thing , I don’t feel that doctors are as altruistic as they are made out to be . Perhaps Dr. Ito is ; perhaps Japanese doctors , as a whole , are focused on a life of service . That is certainly not the case with doctors the world over . Most people in the medical field in the U.S or in India or elsewhere entered the profession because it afforded them a lucrative career . Nothing wrong with that but it means they are no different from the rest of us .
It’s also a myth that doctor’s lifestyles are healthier than the norm because they are better informed about health matters . I remember when my brother-in-law had a heart problem and was at his cardiologist’s . ” You will have to completely change your habits ” , that worthy advised ” No more smoking , ever …” He made this pronouncement while he himself was puffing on a cigarette , thus undermining the gravity of his edict . My own cardiologist takes great relish in telling me what I must not eat ; meanwhile , he looks as though he has never said no to a cannoli . No , doctors may know what’s good for health but , more often than not , they don’t follow their own advice.
Good health and long life are generally attributed to the following factors : a healthy diet , good exercise habits , avoidance of stress and of , course good genes . The last named is out of our hands : our genetic make-up is what we are handed by our parents. As far as stress is concerned , doctors do experience a lot of stress since they are always being called to make decisions about the well being of their patients .( One source even cites an undocumented statistic that ER doctors lives are , on average , seven years shorter than the rest). On the other hand , doctors have fewer economic worries , once they’ve paid of their student loans, and they have a life long career. It can be argued that people in other professions are always under the gun , particularly in these difficult times , that they don’t have nearly the same economic security and that they will have to change their careers several times in the course of a lifetime. On the issue of stress , therefore , I think it is a wash.
As far as diet and exercise are concerned , it is an individual matter. As a class, doctors are no better and no worse off than the rest of us.I think that it’s a myth that doctors live longer than the rest of us .
P.S There are some who claim doctors lives are shorter than the norm because of the stress. One joker moans that ” … the MCAT took three years off my life . My first rejection , my first interview and the agonizing wait thereafter have taken off another 5 to 7 years … I’m screwed even before I’ve started … ” ( LOL)