3 Reasons You Hate Your Job & What To Do About It

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

While I can’t say that I hate my job, I can explain why you probably hate yours.  Interestingly, there is good psychology research out there, which dives into this idea of work satisfaction. If you have ever felt like the place you work won’t love you back, this post will explain why you have felt that way.

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I Hate My Job with A Dash of Psychology

Richard Ryan and Edward Deci believe that a strong link exists between self-motivation and work-satisfaction.  In other words, they believe that people don’t need an extrinsic reward (e.g. to be “paid more”) if they are self-motivated to do a better job.   

Ryan and Deci studied and introduced three important factors (autonomy, competence, and relatedness) that they found led to increasing self-motivation and satisfaction at work.

The point they made is that workers who are more satisfied at work are more likely to be internally motivated.  This then begs the question, “How can I find that satisfaction at work?

How do autonomy, competence, and “relatedness” (whatever that means) relate to those of us that work in medical professions?  Does it help explain our love (or hate) for the hospitals and clinics where we work?


Have you ever wondered why it infuriates you when an insurance company or administrator tells you how to do your job?  It’s because they are taking your autonomy.

Health care providers often use the word “autonomy” to describe how we allow patients to make their own decisions once they’ve been armed with the information they need.

Autonomy at work has a similar meaning.  Essentially, we gain satisfaction when we are able to determine for ourselves how we spend our time and how we accomplish our job.

Fight Back with FI

In most physician burnout surveys, a lack of autonomy is usually a leading cause of burnout.  From EMR’s to encroaching administrators and insurance companies, there are many things vying for our decision making capacity.

How then can we fight back to regain our autonomy?

In a system that refuses to change, the main way is through achieving financial independence. When there is enough money in the bank (or passive income being generated each month) to cover our living expenses, people can’t tell you how to do your job.  Actually, they can.  You just don’t have to listen.

As they say,

If you don’t have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu. ~ Unknown

If administrators insist on stealing your autonomy, you know where to find the door.   You should also know how to adopt a Hell Yes Policy.

Having the financial freedom to choose your path is empowering. It can allow you to cut back, build a side hustle, or to leave completely if your financial house is in order.

Do some locums work; start a web site; write a book (read this guest post if you want to know how); do some expert witness medical malpractice work; buy some real estate; etc.  All of these things may help provide that autonomy you seek.


When we are good at our job, we are more likely to be motivated and, therefore, to be satisfied at work.  When we feel incompetent, work satisfaction declines.

(For those of us that suffer from imposter syndrome, this is the area where incompetence rears its ugly headFeeling incompetent can impact work satisfaction even if that incompetence isn’t real.)

It is very frustrating when performing tasks that do not come natural to us.

As an example, I see this all the time in my line of work when I supervise residents performing ultrasound guided nerve blocks.  This skill comes more naturally for some than it does for others.

For those who are not naturals, it is extremely frustrating to them in the beginning to visualize what they are doing.  Their hands simply do not want to listen to their brain as they try and visualize the needle beneath an ultrasound probe. This leads to the same comments each time from the attending… “Show me the needle; where’s the tip?”

As their skills grow and they become competent, it is easy to see how much more motivated they are to perform the same tasks (and how much more joy they derive from doing it well).

The Intersection of
Competence and Autonomy

Another piece to this is that competence and autonomy are probably related.  If given autonomy, people are more likely to attack a given problem via a method that best utilizes their skill set.  The opposite is also true. When micromanaged, people are often forced to perform tasks in a way that doesn’t suit their skill set.

For this reason, I try not to micromanage my residents/fellows.  This is the secret to increasing both motivation and satisfaction.  Giving my residents autonomy allows them to feel both self-directed and skilled at what they are doing.

That said, for my readers who are early in your training… do not shy away from things that are harder for you to master!  You become competent by trying the difficult tasks, cases, and procedural skills!  Practice makes perfect, right?

In fact, I encourage my resident readers to do the following: If you ever feel like a specific case, patient population, or procedure makes you nervous, then you should actively pursue it!  Don’t ever say no to a challenging case or procedure. Slay the beast; create competence. 


Finally, the third component in all of this is relatedness. What a strange word some psychologist came up with.

Relatedness describes the feeling of being supported at work.  In other words, when colleagues and bosses provide support, work satisfaction increases. This is probably obvious.

Supporting someone does not mean “telling them what to do.” This is important based on what was mentioned earlier about autonomy.  Autonomy means self-direction, it does not mean that you are doing it alone or in isolation.

In the end, autonomy and relatedness can both be present.

This is best seen when tasks are being accomplished by a non-micromanaged person who accomplishes their job how they best see fit.  When they need help, they know the support is there.

Take Home

If you have ever said, “I hate my job” hopefully you now understand why. And what to do about it. Being satisfied at work is related to these three key components (autonomy, competence, and support at work).

If you are unhappy and these things are missing from your work, I’d encourage you to fight back the burnout and work dissatisfaction through working towards financial independence, side hustles, or a job change.

If none of those work, become your own boss!  Remember, you have a desired skill set.  Don’t ever forget that.

Do you agree that these three ideas have a substantial impact on your satisfaction at work?  How do you think someone can obtain them?  Leave a comment below.



  1. Ms ZiYou

    I love this post, and I think the key to satisfaction is working out what really works for you personally, as we are all different.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s exactly right. And I think that fits right into autonomy, honestly. Figuring out what works best for you and then being allowed to do it is a huge part of satisfaction. If, on the other hand, you figured out what you wanted to do but your boss said “no” that’s a recipe for unhappiness at work. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Xrayvsn

    It is something that is very specific to my specialty and I would venture to say that there are a lot of radiologists in my camp but for me there are certain modalities that really motivate me when I am assigned that week and others that make the week drag out and does flame the fires of burnout.

    My kryptonite modality is mammograms. More so than any other imaging modality it requires extreme visual acuity/scrutiny as you are looking for things like calcifications that could fit on the tip of a needle. And when you do find something, it really isn’t satisfying like seeing something interesting on CT or MRI.

    The radiologist who is semi-retired and covers the day off of my partner and I each week only accepts covering CT and MRI (my 2 favorites as well).

    Unfortunately since there is only 2 of us in the group, it’s an every other week event that we are forced to deal with.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      You’ve got to find a balance between the things you love and hate (should I say “don’t prefer”?) in your job.

      Glad you’ve figured it out! I hope to do the same over the next few years.



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