Psychiatrists Cheerful but Not the Happiest of Specialists

Caroline Cassels

March 22, 2012

March 22, 2012 — Psychiatrists are a pretty cheerful bunch, although, perhaps ironically, they are not the happiest of all specialists.

According to the Medscape Psychiatrist Lifestyle Report 2012 , among 28,108 physicians from 25 different specialties surveyed, when it comes to enjoying life outside work, psychiatrists ranked eighth.

Medscape asked US physicians to rate their level of happiness outside of work on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the least happy and 5 being the happiest. The average happiness score for all physicians who responded was 3.96, which is on the cheerful side. Psychiatrists were happier still, with a score of 3.99.

With an average score of 4.09, the happiest of all specialists were rheumatologists, and the least happy were neurologists, who had an average score of 3.88.


Although psychiatrists enjoy many of the same pastimes as physicians in general, including exercise and physical activity, travel, cultural events, food, and wine, the survey results revealed that they tend to be a bit more bookish than their colleagues, ranking reading rather than exercise as their most popular pastime.

Among psychiatrists, more interesting pastimes were robotics and herpetology, the study of amphibians and reptiles.

Medscape Psychiatrist Lifestyle Report also revealed that psychiatrists take significantly less time off than other specialists. Almost 17% take more than 4 weeks, which is below the physician average, and 30% take fewer than 2 weeks per year.

The top 2 vacations for psychiatrists are foreign travel (54.1%) and beaches (47%). About 20% of psychiatrists preferred cultural trips, followed closely by road trips and stays at vacation homes. Others preferred to relax at home, and 1 psychiatrist reported needing the sanctuary of a monastery to relax.

Psychiatrists are slightly less likely to be married (71%) compared with their physician colleagues (81%). They also reported a higher divorce and separation rate — 8% vs 5.7% for all physicians.

The survey asked specialists to rank their physical health. The healthiest specialists included dermatologists, plastic surgeons, endocrinologists, orthopedists, and cardiologists. The 5 least healthy were general surgeons, psychiatrists, ob/gyns, pediatricians, and critical care physicians.

Psychiatrist survey respondents rated their health as slightly worse than the average physician in every age group, except for the youngest: those 31 to 40 years of age. That group reported an average health score of 4.04 out of 5, compared with the overall average of 4.00. Psychiatrists in all of the older groups rated their health worse compared with other physicians.

Most Liberal

The Medscape survey also revealed that psychiatrists are no less and no more likely to be overweight (32%) or obese (5.6%) than other physicians. It also showed that psychiatrists exercise about as frequently as other physicians and that their exercise frequency tends to increase with age.

For example, for psychiatrists in their 50s, 33% exercise 4 or more times a week. This proportion climbs to 35% for psychiatrists in their 60s and to 38% for those in their 70s or older.

Aerobic exercise is the most popular and is practiced by 72% of psychiatrists. Approximately 28% of psychiatrists report engaging in weight training. About 19% of psychiatrists engage in Eastern practices such as yoga and tai chi vs 14.6% of all physicians.

About 3% of psychiatrists smoke, which is well below the national average of 18%, and approximately 12% are ex-smokers.

According to a 2010 Gallup poll, 67% of Americans drink alcohol. Psychiatrists are slightly ahead of this rate, with 69% reporting that they drink and 31% reporting that they do not drink at all. However, those who do drink tend not to overindulge, with over 50% reporting that they have less than 1 drink per day, 14% reporting that they drink 1 or 2 drinks per day, and only 2.1% admitting to more than 2 drinks daily.

When asked about their political leanings, over 36% of psychiatrists defined themselves as being both socially and fiscally liberal — a percentage that is higher than in the general US population and also higher than in the general population of physicians.

About 18% of psychiatrists described their views as being conservative in both areas. When the data are broken down further, 60% of psychiatrists say that they are fiscally conservative, and almost 78% describe themselves as social liberals, making them among the most left-leaning of physician specialties surveyed.

The full Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report 2012 is available online.