The ultimate test: 10 degrees that lead to the hardest jobs in the world

hardest jobs in the world
The hardest jobs in the world could lead to high levels of stress and burnout. Source: Franck Fife/AFP

Once we finish university, there’ll be no more assignments, deadlines and exams, right? That may be true for some of us, but not if your degree leads you to the hardest jobs in the world.

There is no denying that each job comes with its own challenges. But let’s face it, some jobs are way more taxing than others.

These are professions that take a lot from you, testing how far your body, mind, soul and ethics can go.

It’s easy to spot those working the hardest jobs in the world. They’re juggling many demands and competing priorities — possibly holding two phones in one hand.

Their faces often look overbooked and overwhelmed. When you invite them out, they always say they’re too busy or too tired.

This, however, is just one type of burnout. In a Harvard Business Review article, Melody Wilding, author of “Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work” posits there are two other types of burnout.

The first is “Under-Challenged Burnout,” where you’re doing too little. Bored and unstimulated, you lack motivation and are frustrated, cynical and lethargic from lacking growth and connection with your colleagues, bosses and company.

The second is “Neglect Burnout” which refers to feeling helpless in the face of challenges. Jobs with little structure, direction, or guidance in the workplace can make you feel incompetent, frustrated, and uncertain.

But beneath these negative exteriors, people in some of the hardest jobs in the world may actually be the most satisfied and rewarded.

Why do people get in and stay in the hardest jobs in the world?

Happiness is subjective. Thus, while the hardest jobs in the world come with a colossal box of challenges, many have found them rewarding.

This can be puzzling. Why would anyone want to stress themselves to no end? The answer to this is that everyone is built differently.

We grew up in our own unique family, city, circumstances, and country. We have our own individual strengths and preferences.

All of this determines what drives us, what makes us passionate and how (and if) we want to make a difference in our respective fields.

For Aathira Preetha Rani, she wanted to go to space. Growing up in India, this wasn’t the easiest ambition to achieve.

She set her sight abroad and landed a partial scholarship to pursue robotics at Algonquin College in Ottawa, Canada.

A few years later, she was been selected by the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences to pursue astronautics (also known as astronomical engineering) as part of Project PoSSUM, a programme that trains citizen-scientist astronauts.

“There are also other training going on around the world. For example, in Poland, I do have a simulation mission where you live like you’re living in the International Space Station, i.e. analogue missions,” she shares with Study International.

“I have centrifugal training (which simulates a high G-force environment) with the Polish Air Force. I’m also waitlisted to fly to the edge of space.”

A high G-force environment can cause the loss of colour vision and loss of peripheral vision (where you can only see your centre) — which have led to countless military and civilian aviation disasters over the last century.

None of this sound easy but in Rani’s own words, she is “living her dream.”

What this story shows is that approach it the right way and the hardest jobs in the world may just be right for you.

Sure, you may encounter some burnout, feel stressed and want to quit sometimes, but you may just find your life’s calling.

hardest jobs in the world

The career of a doctor is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Source: Noah Seelam/AFP


10 degrees that lead to the hardest jobs in the world: 

1. Bachelor of Medicine 

It is no surprise that a career in the medical line is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Whether you choose to be a GP or a gynecologist, your job isn’t going to be easy. 

From the four years you spend in medical school to your career, be prepared for sleepless nights. Working as a healthcare worker means constantly being on your feet and attending to your patient.

There is no rest during your shift – which are long hours in a day. 

Besides being physically challenging, a career in this line is also mentally challenging, as medical professionals have to be ready to face sick patients and their families. 

That being said, working as a healthcare worker is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. 

“My time as a junior doctor was hell, but it led me to the most rewarding job,” wrote one doctor in The Guardian.

“I commuted thousands of miles to hospital placements, meetings and training sessions. I spent thousands of pounds on exam fees, courses and books. The requisite number of operative cases, audit projects, international presentations and peer reviewed articles was continually changed and I constantly strived to satisfy the increasing demands.”

Today, the orthopaedic and trauma consultant still works “extremely hard.”

“However, I am paid well, I finally have geographical and financial stability and I could not imagine a more rewarding job. My abuser has less power over me now, and I have a higher self esteem.”

2. Bachelor of Marketing 

Salespeople are often considered the most important people in the company. If they aren’t successful at selling the product or service, then both the company and them don’t make money.

They are crucial to the company’s success. 

If you enjoy a job that involves high pressure and meeting deadlines, then a career in sales is just for you. 

You will constantly be under pressure trying to chase a sale and increase profit. Be prepared to work long hours and sometimes even over the weekend and on holidays. 

However, if you succeed in this field, you will enjoy a high salary as those in sales take home their base salary and the commission they make, earning around US$68,674 per year.

To become a salesperson, you will first need a degree in marketing.

hardest jobs in the world

The high-stress levels that come with a career in aviation make it one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Source: Joe Raedle/AFP

3. Bachelor of Aviation 

While working as a pilot sounds like a dream as you get to travel to many different countries, it is actually one of the hardest jobs in the world. 

The biggest stress from this job is the responsibility that lies in the hands of the pilot. You are esponsible for hundreds of lives at a time as you take them over vast lands and oceans.

Besides that, pilots also have to deal with weather delays, disgruntled passengers and jet lag.

To become a pilot, you will first need to complete a bachelor’s  degreein aviation and then go through years of training to develop your experience and skills. 

The upside to this career is that airlines pay pilots well, as they know how hard the job is.

While this job comes with huge risks and is one of the most dangerous, pilots are some of the highest paid in the world. Pilots in the US earn around US$104,044 annually

4. Bachelor in Engineering

A bachelor’s degre in engineering can open the doors to many career opportunities. This includes one of the hardest jobs in the world: astronautical engineer or astronauts.

Astronauts have stressful, high-pressure jobs that can be mentally draining.

While travelling to space sounds amazing, it takes a lot of hard work and determination. You need to be physically and mentally fit to withstand the mental isolation of long missions in space. 

Those in this line need to be able to stay calm in stressful situations and be prepared to face anything that might happen while in space. 

With such high risks, it is no surprise that astronauts earn around US$104,898 to US$161,141 a year

However, to become an astronaut having a degree in engineering isn’t enough. You will also need the following:

  • A master’s in a STEM field
  • Two years of training 
  • Passing the NASA physical test
hardest jobs in the world

Working as a social worker is rewarding but can be mentally challenging. Source: Kim Won Jin/AFP

5. Bachelor of Social Work 

To become a social worker, you must first obtain a degree in social work from an accredited university. 

A career in this field is not physically demanding but can take a toll on you mentally. This is the case when dealing with children, often from poor homes with poor well-being.

Those in this field will have to work in some difficult situations, all while doing what is best for the child in concern. 

Many often suffer from secondary PTSD from seeing children in vulnerable situations.

Experiencing burnout in this career is quite common, with over 39% of social workers going through it. 

6. Bachelor in Culinary Arts 

If you are someone that can work under pressure while taking orders and overseeing everything in the kitchen, then a career as a chef is exactly for you. 

Imagine if you had to work under Gordon Ramsay. It’s no surprise that a career as a chef is one of the hardest jobs in the world. 

Working in a restaurant is often hot, as there is always something boiling, baking or frying. As a chef, you will need to be on your feet for long hours at a time while enduring hot temperatures all around you.

It’s always loud and can get overhwelmingly hectic during peak hours, with orders coming in like hotcakes. 

Being able to deliver orders on time while avoiding the hazards all around the kitchen can take a toll on you. 

You have to produce the perfect meal every time. The customer expects no less.

Working in a kitchen requires skill, creativity and endurance. 

hardest jobs in the world

Teaching is one of the hardest jobs in the world, as teachers are responsible for the safety and well-being of their students. Source: Noah Seelam/AFP

7. Bachelor in Teaching

Teachers are the unsung heroes of our society. They are responsible for nurturing the minds of the next generation. 

While many view a bachelor’s degree in education as easy, the job of a teacher is considered one of the most difficult careers for centuries.

Teachers have to deal with many children who have different personalities and interests. They are also responsible for the safety of their students at all times. 

And their job doesn’t end once the school bell rings. Teachers usually have a heavy workload with marking students’ work and creating lesson plans. 

This has led to 35% of university lecturers in the US feeling burnt out. This number is higher for K-12 teachers, with 44% of them feeling this way. 

8. Bachelor in Nuclear Science 

A nuclear scientist plays a big role in ensuring a safe environment. They are responsible for operating and maintaining nuclear power plants, researching new methods of generating clean energy, developing nuclear weapons and storing them safely, creating new drugs and medicine with atomic physics and making sure that all the waste produced by facilities is disposed of properly so it doesn’t contaminate the environment or harm anyone.

To begin a career in this field, you will first need to complete a bachelor’s in nuclear science to understand the skills and knowledge for a successful career. 

In this area, you will be required to work with radioactive materials, which could be toxic and dangerous in the long run. 

hardest jobs in the world

There is no denying that brain surgery is one of the most stressful and hardest jobs in the world. Source: Wang Zhao/AFP

9. Bachelor of Surgery 

While surgery on its own is dubbed a difficult field to enter, neurosurgery has been recognised as one of the most difficult jobs in the world. 

As a neurosurgeon, you are expected to have a wide range of skills and knowledge. Those who choose this path need excellent hand-eye coordination and organisational skills to perform surgery. 

Neurosurgery is a demanding and time-consuming career. The process of becoming a neurosurgeon is also long and gruelling.

To become a neurosurgeon, you will usually follow this path:

  • Four years of pre-medical education
  • Attend a four-year medical school and graduate with an MD or DO degree
  • One year of internship in general surgery 
  • Five to seven years in a neurosurgery residency programme

This is a journey of least 14 years before being legally qualified to poke inside someone’s head.

Though a long and difficult endeavour, the result is rewarding. Neurosurgery is one of the most prestigious and highly paid-professions.

Those in this line earn an average of US$216,329 a year and have the honour of saying they’ve saved plenty of lives.

10. Bachelor of Law

Law has been recognised as one of the most highly-respected fields, falling in second place behind doctors.

Professionals in this field are renowned for being high-performing, intellectually outstanding, and hardworking individuals.

All this hard work comes with a high salary to match. 

However, while being a lawyer can guarantee an elite reputation and plenty of cash in the bank, it is also one of the hardest jobs in the world. 

Lawyers work in billable hours, which means every hour you’re not working, you’re not earning money.

This has led to a well-known culture of overwork among lawyers and legal professionals, who often find little time to rest or do anything else but work.

That’s not counting the difficult clients, increasing demands and mountains of paperwork daily as well.