Profiles in Happiness: Which Physicians Enjoy Life Most?

Carol Peckham

Disclosures

March 22, 2012

In This Article

How Healthy Are Physicians?

The Medscape survey asked physicians to rate their health on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being in very poor health and 5 being in excellent health. The healthiest specialists by self-report were dermatologists (4.23), plastic surgeons (4.22), endocrinologists (4.20), orthopaedists (4.19), and cardiologists (4.17). The 5 least healthy were intensivists (3.98); pediatricians (4.01); and ob/gyns, pathologists, and psychiatrists, all tied at 4.02. General surgeons (4.04), internists, and family physicians (tied at 4.05) and emergency physicians (4.06) were also among the 10 least healthy physicians. It is tempting to hypothesize that the stresses of general medicine may play a role in the health of physicians.

How Many Physicians Are Overweight?

According to CDC statistics, in 2008 40% of US men were overweight and 32% were obese.[13] Physicians in our survey didn't do much better: Approximately 37% of male doctors reported being overweight, with 5.3% being obese. This was very similar to a 2004 study[14] that found 38% of male physicians to be overweight and 8% obese, suggesting that the situation has not improved much over the past 7 years. As for women, according to the CDC, 28.6% were overweight in 2008 and 35% were obese. In the Medscape survey the percentage of female physicians who reported being overweight tended to be slightly higher than the nation's women (31.3%), but obesity rates were much lower (6.2%).

In terms of specialty, again, the generalists tended to be the heaviest. The 5 physician groups reporting the highest BMIs (25 and over) were family physicians (43.9%), intensivists (42.7%), ob/gyns (42.3%), general surgeons (41.3%), and internists (37.4%) (see Table 4).

Table 4. Physician Weight

Specialty Normal
(BMI
18.5 -
24.9)
Obese
(BMI ≥
30)
Overweight
(BMI 25 -
29.9)
Underweight
(BMI ≤ 18.5)
BMI 25
and
Over
Anesthesiology 56.20% 4.16% 32.85% 1.02% 37.01%
Cardiology 58.40% 3.81% 31.76% 0.66% 35.56%
Critical Care 52.60% 9.38% 33.33% 0.52% 42.71%
Dermatology 68.90% 2.17% 18.11% 4.33% 20.28%
Diabetes &
Endocrinology
61.48% 5.93% 28.15% 0.74% 34.07%
Emergency Medicine 57.80% 4.58% 30.62% 2.71% 35.20%
Family Medicine 50.78% 8.86% 35.06% 1.05% 43.93%
Gastroenterology 63.96% 4.17% 26.88% 0.83% 31.04%
General Surgery 51.65% 6.78% 34.61% 1.25% 41.39%
HIV/ID 60.25% 3.77% 28.45% 0.84% 32.22%
Internal Medicine 56.00% 4.75% 32.66% 1.38% 37.41%
Nephrology 56.47% 5.05% 30.91% 0.95% 35.96%
Neurology 58.52% 4.59% 29.93% 1.48% 34.52%
Ob/Gyn & Women's
Health
51.61% 7.19% 35.11% 1.44% 42.30%
Oncology 54.72% 2.36% 33.48% 3.22% 35.84%
Ophthalmology 63.07% 2.35% 24.73% 4.38% 27.07%
Orthopaedics 56.37% 3.90% 32.08% 1.05% 35.98%
Other (please specify) 56.05% 4.73% 31.95% 2.22% 36.68%
Pathology 55.24% 6.82% 29.95% 2.33% 36.77%
Pediatrics 58.93% 5.58% 28.65% 2.38% 34.23%
Plastic Surgery 61.21% 4.63% 24.91% 3.20% 29.54%
Psychiatry & Mental
Health
57.23% 5.26% 30.39% 1.97% 35.65%
Pulmonary Medicine 58.84% 3.66% 29.88% 1.22% 33.54%
Radiology 62.64% 2.60% 25.87% 2.60% 28.47%
Rheumatology 58.41% 4.67% 28.97% 1.87% 33.64%
Urology 57.52% 3.34% 33.65% 1.19% 36.99%

How Often Do Physicians Exercise?

According to the CDC, between 1999 and 2009 the percentage of men 18 years of age and over who met the 2008 federal aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening guidelines increased from 19% to 22%.[13] According to the Medscape survey, then, physicians do better than the average American, and the older they get the more they exercise. About 48% of physicians under 30 exercise at least twice a week. After age 61, more than 72% are exercising at least twice a week. Whether this is a matter of free time or consciousness of aging cannot be determined from this survey. According to the response to the next question, about 7% of female and 8% of male physicians do not exercise at all. For both men and women, aerobic activities are by far the most common and popular exercises (over 71% for both).

Do Physicians Smoke and Drink?

Although the national quit rate has increased slightly over the past few years, according to a 2011 Harris poll, 18% of Americans still smoke.[15] Among nonsmokers, physicians lead the national pack: Only 2% of men and 1.28% of women report that they smoke. About 9% of men and 5% of women were once smokers but quit.

As reported in a 2010 Gallup poll,[16] 67% of American adults drink alcohol, a rate that has been "remarkably stable" since this began being tracked in 1939. According to the Medscape survey, male physicians are slightly ahead of the national population, with 73.4% reporting that they drink. Female physicians are closer to the national average, with 65% saying that they drink alcohol. Our survey suggests that physicians tend not to overindulge: Over half report having not even 1 drink a day, and about a quarter of men and a third of women do not drink at all. About 15% of men and 10% of women report having 1-2 alcoholic beverages a day, with only 3.3% of men and 1.25% of women admitting to more than 2.

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