Tuesday, November 07, 2006


In some ways my job gets easier as I get older. Advances in neonatal medicine make it easier. I have more experience and there are fewer and fewer situations that I haven't handled before. Even if there is a new problem, I have handled enough other problems that I'm pretty confident about the new one. It's also easier to talk to parents when you have that confidence.

In some ways, though, my job gets harder as I age. Yesterday was a very busy day, and there was one particular baby who was very sick and took a lot of attention. There were nearly constant concerns about him: Does he need more fluids, different antibiotics, blood, platelets? It was true critical care medicine. I enjoyed it, but when I got home I was mentally exhausted, seemingly more so than I would have been earlier in my career, although maybe I just don't remember how tired I used to get.

I've never been one to think that doctors' jobs are more stressful than those of other people. Even though we deal with health and sickness, sometimes life and death, we're trained for it, and besides, there can be significant stress in other jobs. Many people have to finish projects or reports by deadlines, or are judged harshly if they don't do their job properly, have to deal with challenging people all day, or simply have to deal with mind numbing boredom day in and day out.

Lately, though, I've been wondering if maybe my job is on the more stressful end of the spectrum. This past weekend I visited my daughter's college, and while there we went to an office of a music professor. His office included two large CD storage towers, a stereo, a Mac computer, and - get this - a large pipe organ. (Is there no justice? I've been trying unsuccessfully for a couple years to get a new combination radiant warmer/incubator that costs $30,000, while this music prof has a pipe organ worth several hundred thousand dollars.) Anyway, I thought, what a nice job he must have, and how little stress there must be. He can listen to music all day, maybe make a few tests, and teach some music lessons. Sure, at one time he probably had to attain tenure, but is that so big a deal in a small college music department?

It's not only what he has to do for his job, but also what he doesn't have to do, namely, he doesn't have to worry about getting a sick baby's oxygen level up when you've already tried everything you can think of, or deal with parents angry because their baby can't go home. There are times when his life looks pretty good, and I can't help but wonder how I'd like it.

I'll never know.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You would probably love to listen to music and write some tests, but you would be bored to death after a few weeks, and after a few months you would be thinking, what can I do in this lifetime to do something better with my life and help people.

9:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You probably make 3x what that music prof does, too, so you may not have the same stresses about finances and retirement stuff.

You also aren't seeing his committee work, student interactions, lecturing load, etc.

And I don't know where this prof lives, but few profs have much choice between jobs, and lots end up far from where they'd like to. That often adds stress, too (dealing with aging parents, troubled family, etc.).

10:34 PM  
Blogger Flea said...

Why didn't you go in for professional sports. Ever see the stuff those guys buy with their money?



5:13 AM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

Hmmm... :-/

I feel qualified to talk on this subject since my first degree is in piano performance and my future goal was originally to get my masters and doctorate in piano performance/pedagogy and teach on the college level.

Statistics show that a vast majority of female instrumental college teachers do not ever get married.

The hours are endless - you have to practice, teach, work on committees, and perform....there really aren't enough hours in the day. While it pays decently enough, the pay isn't that great - and the expenses are large which include purchasing music (not necessarily funded by the university...), traveling, concert hall fees, etc...

In one day, my former piano teacher's schedule started pretty early in the morning - he would teach lessons...about 5 or so throughout the day, we would have a studio class for an hour, he taught piano pedagogy which took a good 2 -3 hours a day, he practiced 3-4 hours a day himself, plus he had 3 children who were also into music, as was his wife. He hardly ever had time for himself.

The things that drove me away from that field were rather numerous... I spent 5-7 hours a day in a windowless practice room. I would get up at whatever hour and go to the practice rooms, and until I had to go to a class with actual humans, nobody would actually know if I was alive or not! It was a pretty lonely existence... I didn't want to live my life like that... The job is also never finished, and that bothered me. I would get to a recital and have to perform my pieces at the level they were at at the time. But to this day, I cannot listen to my recordings without cringing. All I hear is the work not done. The hours more I should have spent in that windowless room. The sections I should have drilled more. I left it because I couldn't stand it. That feeling of never being good enough and never being finished is just not a good one... I used to go buy my lunch from the grad student cafe and take it back to my windowless practice room. I'd sit at the piano with a sandwich in my left hand while drilling lines of the music with my right hand. I'm not kidding about this....

When my best friend and I got stressed our tired, we'd lock our bags in the practice room and go get an ice cream - but eat it while walking back to the practice room. When my back hurt, I'd lie on the practice room floor - or I'd bend over the bench backwards so that I could get stretched out a bit. Music wasn't what I did for fun. I got incredibly upset when someone would say to me, "Piano? Oh what a nice hobby that must be..." "Hobby? My ass!" Nothing you spend 5-7 hours a day doing (and that's just hardcore practice time, let alone performances, classes, listening to the pieces, analyzing them, researching them, teaching, etc) is a hobby... I took up figure skating so that I had a hobby. haha

It's not that I think that the music professor has it worse than you do as a neonatologist. I dont' think that at all. There have been countless times when I've thought, as a neonatal nurse, that I didn't know what stress was until I started working in this field. But then I look back on my life...stress is whatever you perceive it to be at the time. It was very stressful to be a music student...and I can't say that I was always the happiest or most social person. The hours spent practicing and so on meant that I had virtually no friends and no social life. How does one meet other people when chained to a windowless practice room?

Just remember - the grass is always greener... While they do not have to deal with the stressors of life and death in the way that we do - it's still a damn hard job in its own way.

Oh and wrt the organ. My teacher got a new piano while I was a student there. It was a BIG deal because it had been years and years since they'd gotten the last one. Yeah - we practiced on pianos that had no touch sensitivity, all chopped up wood, broken - there were a few wooden pianos that looked like they'd been around since the 1950s at least - they were the ones that nobody wanted to play on - people only took practice time in those rooms if they couldn't sign up for time in any other rooms in the few hours that we had to schedule practice time!

But then - life is what you make it - and I've always been one who dives in pretty deeply and is always overinvolved in things - so perhaps I'm just often feeling overstressed, overworked, and underpaid because I give too much of myself to everything. I dunno...

If you're happy with what you do - then I think that's what is most important. I believe that it's never too late to do something different if you don't like what you do. Life will seem less stressful and more enjoyable when you enjoy what you do. I truly believe that! :)

Sorry to rant on - just a very personal topic...I can't begin to tell you the hours I spent stressing over whether I should continue on in music or go into medicine. (Medicine was the choice since before I got sick, all I wanted to do was become a doctor...) Sometimes I still question myself - even though I know I'm doing what I should be doing and what I enjoy doing. I just miss music sometimes...

10:24 AM  
Blogger My Heart On My Sleeve said...

Your job=more stressful that most. Yep Yep Yep. At least way more stressful than mine.

10:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how the two salaries compare?

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And how much money was spent on private music lessons for this professor when he/she was growing up? And when did they start, at age 7? 6? earlier? How many hours spent practicing per day, even before college? The professor, more than likely, had to learn more than one instrument growing up.

How about all the music competitions the professor had to enter, if he/she had any hope of becomeing a music professional? What about the competition to get into music school, then a graduate program in music? Then the competition to get a professorship? Then the effort to obtain tenure?

I agree, the professor's job is not as stressful as that of a neonatologist. But that doesn't mean that he/she is any less dedicated to their profession, nor that they don't work long hours.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you lived in New Jersey, you could have it both ways, work daily in the NICU and be a professor, without any of that messy teaching and stuff.

From today's newspaper:

Published report questions appointments in UMDNJ's heart program
November 5, 2006, 2:37 PM EST

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A federal monitor and state health officials have started investigating the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's cardiology program after a newspaper investigation found some questionable hirings.

UMDNJ paid annual salaries and stipends as high as $150,000 to at least nine local cardiologists, who did little other than possibly referring patients at their private practice to the university's heart surgery program, according to a report in published Sunday in The Star-Ledger of Newark.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a student at Lehigh U. in Penna 20 years ago, I joined the Choral Union, which was led by Prof. Steven Sametz. Here is the university webpage for him:


Lehigh is mainly an engineering/business school, with a limited interest in the arts. Even with that, look how busy Dr. Sametz is.

6:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there is no comparison in respect to the responsibilities that the professor handles and the load on your shoulders neo.take care

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have been saying for years why don't we organize a 'gulf shores jaundiced baby society' my idea is we need a medical director,a dir.of nsg. and me,i'll be glad to be a grunt.all nurses could sit on the beach with a mildly jaundiced baby(under a parasol,of course) baby bottles for the little ones,wine for the medical personnel,well,you get the idea,lol

7:47 PM  
Blogger neonataldoc said...

Anonymous 7:47, great idea!

I figured I'd get comments about the salary difference, and it is a fair point. Neonursechic's comment is very interesting. It does sound like a pain to become a professional musician or professor, but after you've got it made, isn't it a decent life?

All in all, I'm pretty happy with my job, but hey, sometimes you just wonder about stuff.

8:17 PM  
Anonymous me, myself said...

As someone who knows the professor in question, I'd like to point out that yes, he is busy; I don't know what kind of committee work he does, but he teaches all of the organ students at this college (not that there are many of us), gives recitals at various places, and is the music director at a large church three hours away, which necessitates weekly trips, which can't be enormously fun. (I don't know why he does both. Maybe he likes stress.) He certainly never appears to have much free time.

Also, I'm sure the organ was, as Neonursechic pointed out, a HUGE deal when it first went in, and I'm also sure it will last decades at least.

10:41 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:22 AM  
Blogger NeoNurseChic said...

ND - With all due respect - getting tenure isn't so easy as it sounds! My teacher was the very best pianist I've ever seen or worked with. He has played in Carnegie Hall at least twice and has performed all over the world. And when he was interviewed for tenure when I was a 4th year student, he didn't get it. I couldn't imagine anybody who deserved it more.

Let's not forget that politics in music and the performing arts are actually worse than real life politics. One of the things that darn near sent me over the edge was over a concerto competition. I had worked on my concerto for months (Saint-Saens 2nd Piano Concerto, for those in the know - or those who feel like downloading it from iTunes!). When it came to the competition, I wasn't promoted on to the actual competition because the other teacher had his 2 favorites that were moved ahead, and what that teacher said went. I played way better than his grad student in that competition. I was furious that I got screwed out of that - I worked so hard....hours and hours spent at this....for something that was decided before I ever played one single note. That's how the entire thing is. I had resolved at one point that I would never enter another competition at my university because the politics were such that no matter how well I played, I would never win - because I didn't have the "right" teacher. (IOW - the department head's students always won..no matter what...) Anybody who asked me about the concerto competition got the hard truth of my opinion on it. And then there was the scholarship competition - where a scholarship to the university depended on how well I played a Chopin Scherzo. And because topamax messed with the temporal lobes of my brain, I bombed the competition and blew my chance at a scholarship. All that riding on how I performed one piece in an 8 minute window. I cried for days after that. (I'm sure that sounds rather trivial being that we're comparing it to life and death here...but still - it was my life! Think of how upset athletes get when they lose a big competition...)

Even with tenure, one doesn't keep up a good reputation (and draw in students to the university or ticket holders to a concert) without performing in top shape at all times. My mom would not allow me to ski anymore once I went to college. I took up skating, but I was scared to death to call my mom from the hospital when they took me there with my concussion after the really bad fall I had because I knew my mom would flip about how that would ruin my music career. Everything was about preserving the career and staying at the top of the pianists there...even for my teacher. I had to take a semester off for tendonitis because of practicing way too much....and it was hell for me to lose 5 months of seriously hard work. I had to keep my arm in a splint just so that I wouldn't practice - and even then I pulled the splint off for 1-2 hours a day to keep on playing if I promised not to push it too hard.

Don't get me wrong - I'm so glad I did it. I will never ever regret the 5 years I took to get my degree in piano performance. And this is how I can illustrate that it is important to life and betters the lives of others and does serve to help other people. I always took recitals to nursing homes and brought my music fraternity to the nursing homes I frequently played at - I'm a big one on wanting to give to people. (Obviously...I'm a nurse...) I wish I had recorded the things those people said. About how much that meant to them, etc. I know I wasn't saving their lives - but I was definitely working to make their lives a little bit better through music. The world would be a pretty sad and desolate place without music! When I have a bad day at work or even just a very adrenaline packed day at work - I'm just so very glad that I can come home to the piano. Nowadays, it's no longer my life. I remember the joy I had when in nursing school because I got to come home for lunch...and actually sit on my bed, watch tv and eat my lunch slowly. This was an entirely new concept for me! My roommate used to laugh at me because I got so excited about our lunch breaks once I was no longer a music student. I no longer felt guilty that I wasn't spending every waking moment at the piano. When my day ended, I could just go home. How beautiful!! When I was a music student, if I went home at 5pm, I used to spend the rest of the night thinking to myself, "I should be practicing right now. I can't believe I came home. That's 5 more hours I lost..." I know it sounds really twisted...

But once you have achieved the professor stance - there are always competitions for the top jobs. For example, one could teach at a small rural college - or one could teach at the University of Indiana - known for creating world-famous musicians. You're not getting there without becoming world-famous yourself!

See what I mean? The work really doesn't ever end.

But once again, I'd like to say that I'm not trying to say that it's harder or more stressful than working in neonatology. Just trying to show that it's not all cake either! I still loved it - but I don't think to this day anybody knows how hard I worked. I hate that I always feel like I have to qualify it. When I got the tendonitis, my mom took me to my brother's orthopedic, who works with olympic athletes. His first comment to me was, "Your parents pay all this money for you to go to college and play the piano? Ha...." And then, "You injured your arm playing the piano? What do you do at the piano that would cause an actual injury." My dad loves this doctor and yet he copied a DVD of my first recital and gave it to the doc so he could see just what we meant when piano can cause orthopedic injuries.

So anyways...anybody in the Philadelphia area want lessons? haha...

Take care!
Carrie :)

1:23 AM  
Anonymous vartabedian said...

My God, this almost borders on tragic. I would agree that the stress of dealing with the parents of sick children is highly underrated.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous A. said...

I'm not a Professor, but hold high degrees in Music Therapy, as well as own and operate a "Music Store."
During the Christmas season, we make so much money I could bathe in it, and during our slow season, I doubt the ability to put food on the table for my four children. I've had the thrill of teaching countless people how to play music, but also the sadness of knowing four of my students commited suicide-and no doubt,the sad music repeating on their stereos when their bodies were found, were pieces I had taught them.
I could speak of the times where our store would sponsor concert events, and VERY famous musicians would take their thousands of dollars to the managers at Big Box stores, just because we refused to do cocaine with them!

But for the first reply, I can't think of doing anything more to help people then by teaching them music!I've transcended the language barrier by teaching Mexican children Mariachi who couldn't so much speak an English sentence, I've given children whose parents can't afford new shoes instruments... Don't ya' know what Music can do for someone?
Confidence, Mathematics, Creativity, Talent, and Worth...
That's damn enough for me.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I think music education is a very important - and probably a highly stressful - career.

But I would have to guess that medicine is more stressful most of the time. I mean, no one ever died from listening to a poor pipe organ performance (although they may have wanted to). Neonatologists (like many other health care providers) make decisions that are literally life and death everyday.

ND, I have been reading this blog for quite a while and you sound like you really care about what you do. As a parent of former preemies, I am glad you and others like you have chosen the stressful career.

5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i read the responses and shake my head in astonishment at how the focus of the post can be so lost. Why do we try to personalize things from others into our own lives?

The first lesson in pain is - that pain is what the patient says it is.

The first lesson in stress is - that stress is what the person says it is.

One thing that grips me about America is the super urge to be competitive in all things; including stuff like - my pain is is as bad or greater than your pain - or my stress blah blah.

Oh for American to roll up the sleeves and bare arms with one another.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous mo from ne said...

Stress can be a relative thing...it's subjective. When I worked in health care it was very stressful but very fufilling.
I am a college professor now and it's different. I still make a difference but if I make a mistake I have more of change to correct it. That let's me sleep better at night.
Good luck with your stress and thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

8:23 PM  
Anonymous Screaming Opera Singer said...

Hi Doc.

Screaming Opera Singer here again(I posted once about my "Screamer" delivery on another thread.)

I wanted you to know that when I was studying music a couple of decades ago, a study came out which rated stressful jobs. Number 2 was being President of the United States. Number 1 was - get this - being the ORGANIST in a church worship service.

I think it sounds strange, too. (I think being an opera singer is stressful enough. I won't get into THAT.) But an organist? Well, I guess in the whole SCHEME of things there are reasons for it.

Consider communion: As organist, you have to coordinate both hands, your feet, and conduct an entire choir of amateur singers with your head while worrying about how long the line for communion is this week, and how many more times you are going to have to play "Let us Break Bread Together On Our knees."

Add to that the stress of trying to get the dang stops pulled in between the different sections of the music without losing control of aforementioned hands, feet, choir and believers. If you're lucky, there's a little red light on the organ console which the pastor can use to cue when all the believers have partaken - but more than likely there is none, only a kind of "rear-view mirror" attached to the instrument. Using it involves bending and stretching all the while keeping hands, feet, head in motion. You will inevitably get the cue to stop just as you start to play a Bach Fugue (since you'd already played "Let us Break Bread together on our kneees" about fifty times and the choir members are starting to spit blood, you decided to give them a break. )

So you have to gracefully bring the Bach Fugue to an end and allow said Pastor to pray ... giving you maybe 20 seconds or so to shift the stops and put your hymn book on the music stand. No problem, except that deciding to play that Bach Fugue got all your music out of order for the service and you can't find your Hymn book. You end up playing the Doxology from memory, but don't know what key it's in, so you start about a fifth too high and the 75 year old sopranos in the choir end up singing way beyond their ranges and sound like a gaggle of excited geese. Everyone starts to giggle and you get blamed for it by a humorless pastor.

These scenarios repeat themselve week in, week out, and you have to jump every second, be flexible, make decisions while coordinating all your appendages and your brain.

Anyway, I used to date an organist, Doc. This was a true story. Believe me, you want to stay in your job.


6:29 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

My cousin's a been a neonatal nurse practitioner for five years, after another 10 years of NICU staff nursing. The stress has gotten to her—so she's just finished a program to become a pediatric nurse practitioner. Once she's certified, she can drop to half time in the NICU, and thus half the life-and-death drama.

3:16 PM  

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