Profiles in Happiness: Which Physicians Enjoy Life Most?

Carol Peckham


March 22, 2012

In This Article

How Do Physicians Spend Their Free Time (If They Have Any)?

The Medscape article Are Doctors Happy? focused on the emotional state of physicians as related to their practice. It included an interview with Neelum Aggarwal, MD, a Chicago neurologist who frequently lectures on stress and burnout. When she conducts workshops on this topic, Dr. Aggarwal always asks participants what activities they enjoy most. "The doctors who are doing well -- the ones who aren't in a burnout or stress cycle -- have an answer right off," she says. "You hear, 'I like to fish,' 'I love to camp,' 'I go bowling.' But the sad thing is that many doctors don't have an answer." The Medscape survey attempted to dig more deeply into this question and find out more about their interests.

How Much Vacation Time Do Physicians Take?

With an average of 13 paid vacation days per year, Americans in general do far worse than those in other developed countries (eg, Italy, 42 days; France, 37; Germany, 35; United Kingdom, 28; Canada, 26; and Japan, 25).[3]The amount of time taken off by physicians varied widely. On the most fortunate side, nearly half of anesthesiologists (48.3%) and radiologists (48.8%) who answered our survey took more than 4 weeks of vacation each year. About a third to a half of physicians get in 2-4 weeks of vacation time a year. Like their fellow Americans, however, over a third (38.3%) of family physicians and almost as many emergency medicine physicians (35.3%), internists (33.9%), and general surgeons (32.5%) take off for 2 weeks a year at most. Such a response among generalists provides even more support that many are having a difficult time. (An exception: 44% of plastic surgeons shared these short vacations and only 11% had 4 or more weeks, giving them the least vacation time of all physicians. Also, with a self-rated happiness score of 3.89, these specialists also found themselves near the bottom of that list as well.)

What Do Physicians Do When They Have Free Time?

According to a 2009 survey from US Travel Association,[4] activities with the greatest interest among US adults are, in order of popularity, visiting friends and relatives, sightseeing, going to beaches, visiting museums, going to national or state parks, going on cruises, visiting theme parks, traveling to cities, and visiting mountain regions. Physicians who answered the survey preferred vacations traveling abroad and at the beach. Women appeared to enjoy these vacations more than men did. Not surprising, more women than men preferred luxury hotels and more men liked winter sports trips than women. Not listed as an answer choice in the Medscape survey but mentioned most frequently in the write-in responses was visiting family members. Other write-in preferred activities were long train rides, nonmedical learning trips, and doing nothing at all. One respondent, in fact, only wanted to "sip tea quietly."

When they had free time at home, male and female physicians rated their top choices as exercise and physical activity, reading, cultural events, and food and wine. Over a third of men but only 25%of women liked surfing the Web, although over 13% of women favored social media compared with about 8% of men. About 17% of men enjoyed managing finances compared with less than 6% of women.


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