Why Physicians Are Struggling with Happiness with Dr. Barrett

Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts

Session 158

Session 158

In today’s episode, Ryan talks with fellow physician-podcaster, Dr. Paddy Barrett who is the man behind the podcast The Doctor Paradox.

Dr. Barrett is from Ireland and somewhat considers himself as a “medical nomad” having done various medical school training and internship in medicine and surgery in Ireland, cardiothoracic surgical training and working in emergency medicine in Australia, interventional cardiology fellowship in Columbia and New York, as well as training and practice in Scripps in San Diego, California.

According to Dr. Barrett, more and more studies are coming out about how physicians are unhappy, not to mention the skyrocketing statistics of suicide. On the flip side, new data was released suggesting the record-breaking number of students applying to medical school each year.

In this episode, you will have a quick glimpse of his transition from being an international medical graduate in Ireland to living in the U.S  as well as Ireland’s medical school scene. Dr. Barrett also shares with us a ton of golden insights to help you scour your way through your own medical path that’s laden with too much negativity from unhappy physicians.

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Dr. Paddy Barrett:

When he first realized he wanted to be a physician

  • Initially wanted to be a candle-maker and a lawyer
  • Had a dream he was interviewing a physician and woke up wanting to be a doctor
  • Promised himself that he would never find himself in a situation where he wouldn’t know what to do after witnessing someone drowning

What’s medical school like in Ireland:

  • Medical school cost is free (except for registration fee)
  • High school to medical school (no undergrad degree)
  • Medical school is approximately 6 years in duration with first 2 years focused on basic sciences and additional years on medical and clinical specialties and clinical attachments

Applying to medical school in Ireland:

During his time…

  • Leave-in certificate examination – 6 subjects
  • Based on the marks you get from those, you get an accumulative score
  • Numeric qualification, “supply & demand” economics matching system – you get in based on your points (which means you had to get straight A’s in your subjects if you really want to get into a school you wanted)


  • No need for straight A’s but match it with an additional examination tailored towards your application to medical school
  • Ireland is currently struggling with how best to go about selecting medical trainees

Challenges he faced moving from Ireland to the U.S.:

  • Recognition of medical school training
  • Visa type and duration of stay – Most visas have a 2-year home rule
  • ACGME-accredited residency for board eligibility affects job availability and insurance

Should it be easier for an international medical graduates to come into the U.S. to practice?

  • Depends on the needs of U.S. healthcare
  • Certain barriers need to be relaxed to fill the needs particularly in primary healthcare and other areas that would benefit from a carefully selected group of people coming from international medical schools

The impetus of The Doctor Paradox:

Seeing many trainees and physicians being:

  • very frustrated and unhappy with their work
  • suffering from burnout
  • fearful of their future and how to manage their choices
  • with no formal infrastructure for people to engage with and those who are going through their medical school training or after as to how best to think about their medical careers
  • not exposed to other non-traditional practices of medicine

“Much of dissatisfaction in general in life has to do with expectation mismatch.” – Dr. Paddy Barrett

  • Align your expectations of what you’re doing in life to open up many opportunities to be much happier and engaging on a daily basis
  • Expectations of monetary rewards will be far less than they have anticipated

The impact of proper sleep:

  • Learn the structures of how to get proper sleep
  • Being careful with your sleep hygiene
  • Greatly impacts the quality of your work
  • You’d feel a million times better

Some strategies to improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Take TV’s out of the bedroom to avoid artificial light hitting your eyes
  • Buy an alarm clock so you don’t have to use your phone as an alarm clock
  • Leave your phone outside of your room

How to stay happy without getting jaded:

  • Even successful people struggled and were unsure of themselves. So it’s reassuring to know that.
  • Be always true to what it is that motivates you in life. All of the successful people embraced their passions either within or beyond medicine. Maintain it alongside your practice of medicine or integrate it.

Some pieces of advice for premed students amidst the negativity around them:

  • The challenges are manageable but have a clear picture of what you’re taking on.
  • If you’re very serious about practicing in the United States, engage with the accredited American training systems much earlier rather than later.
  • It’s your internal compass that will guide you best. Embrace your passions.
  • Surround yourself with really good support network of colleagues, family, and friends
  • Get yourself a mentor or somebody who can be your sounding board.
  • Give yourself a scaffold of thinking as how best to approach these problems.
  • Read as many philosophy books as possible that will change your world.
  • Look at where you are now. You have the opportunity to control your attitude to your current situation and future situation.

Links and Other Resources