The Physician: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?

Carol Peckham

| Disclosures | January 23, 2014

Which Physicians Are Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise?

This marks the third year of the Medscape Lifestyle Report, which covers the results of an annual survey of tens of thousands (this year, 31,399) of US physicians across 25 specialty areas. The survey seeks insight into physicians' lives outside of the practice of medicine, including their spiritual and political beliefs, general health, marital status, perception of their savings, and view of their own basic happiness at and outside of work. Last year, the Medscape lifestyle survey included questions on burnout, a serious issue among all physicians. This year, we were interested in their health habits and asked questions about what and where they eat, use of supplements, and whether they used complementary and alternative medicine. In general, the great majority of physicians who responded to this survey reported a high level of health. At 96% and 95%, respectively, almost all dermatologists and ophthalmologists claim that their health is good to excellent; they were at the top of the physician list on self-reported health. Intensivists, at 87%, are at the bottom, followed closely at 88% by cardiologists, internists, nephrologists, psychiatrists, and rheumatologists. Their responses to more in-depth questions on healthy habits, however, were interesting and revealing.

The Most and Least Fortunate Physicians

The Most Fortunate Physicians

According to this year's responses, the most fortunate physicians appear to be dermatologists. First, they are the happiest both at home and at work; about 70% of dermatologists rated themselves very to extremely happy at home, putting them second only to ophthalmologists. And at 53%, dermatologists topped the specialty list in reporting a high level of happiness at work. They were also at the top (96%) in rating their health as good to excellent. Although dermatologists were not in first place in regard to thinking they have adequate savings, 73% did think so, putting them sixth from the top of the list. They are also the most likely to volunteer, with only 20% of them saying that they don't. And finally, with the focus this year on health, dermatologists are the least heavy physicians, with only 23% admitting to being overweight or obese. Amy Derick, MD, owner of Derick Dermatology, LLC, noted thatflexibility and predictability are 2 reasons why dermatologists enjoy higher levels of job satisfaction.[1] Dermatologists can subspecialize or do it all: pathology, surgery, cosmetics, pediatrics, adult patients, etc. Dermatologists can work routine daytime hours (full time or part time) and thus have predictable family time in the evenings that is not typically interrupted by emergencies.

The Least Fortunate Physicians

According to this Medscape survey, the least fortunate physicians are primary care physicians -- internists and family physicians. At 36%, family physicians are tied with emergency medicine physicians for being the least happy at work, with internists, at 37%, tying radiologists for third/fourth place from the bottom. Internists are not that happy at home either, with only 53% saying they are very to extremely happy at home, third from the bottom of this list. Although family physicians, at 61%, are not the least happy specialists at home, they still fall below the middle. While 89% of family physicians and 88% of internists claim good health, they are seventh and fifth, respectively, from the bottom of the list, which is about where they placed in the 2012 Medscape Lifestyle Report. Very few family physicians and internists (13%) take more than 4 weeks of vacation, putting them in the bottom 3 along with endocrinologists (11%). With 48% saying they are overweight to obese, family physicians are the second heaviest of the group (general surgeons take the top spot at 49%). Internists were ninth from the bottom, with 42% reporting overweight to obesity. When physicians were asked whether they had adequate or more savings, both primary care groups came in last, with only 57% reporting that their savings were adequate. (With 78% reporting adequate or more savings, orthopedists are at the top of the list.) Certainly the income disparity between primary care physicians and many specialists is an area of conflict and concern. Some of the changes that are part of the Affordable Care Act are intended to redress this, but it is not yet known how big a difference they will make.

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Table. Physicians' Routine Dietary Approaches 
Dietary Approach Underweight
or Normal Weight
or Obese
Typical American diet (meat most days; carbs most days from white rice, potatoes, or white flour products; high fat) 25% 40%
American Heart Association-type diet (avoid saturated fats; 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily; avoid red meat; at least 2 servings of fish a week; choose high-fiber, whole-grain carbs) 24% 16%
Mediterranean diet (whole grains, seeds, nuts, fruit, olive oil, red wine, protein from fish) 21% 14%
Paleo diet (avoid all processed foods, potatoes, sugar; choose fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, meat from grass-fed animals, eggs, natural oils) 7% 5%
Weight-loss, calorie-restriction diets 6% 11%
Lacto-ovo vegetarian (no meat but dairy and eggs) 6% 3%
Meals on-the-go (take-out, fast food, vending machines) 3% 5%
Weight-loss diets not dependent on calorie restriction (eg, South Beach, Atkins) 3% 5%
Vegan (vegetarian, no dairy, no eggs) 2% 1%
Gluten-free diet 2% 1%
Ornish-style diet (less than 10% of calories from any fat; avoid animal products; large amounts of whole grains and vegetables) 2% 1%


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Authors and Disclosures


Carol Peckham

Director, Editorial Services, Art Science Code LLC, New York, New York

Disclosure: Carol Peckham has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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