Physicians Rate Happiness High in Life Outside Work: Survey

Marcia Frellick

January 10, 2019

Most physicians who were surveyed about their lives outside work rated their personal happiness high in the Medscape Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2019 .

More than half (52%) reported they were very happy or extremely happy, slightly more than the 50% who said that in the previous annual survey; 9% this year said they were very unhappy or extremely unhappy.

Rheumatologists topped the list by specialty with 65% indicating they were happy outside work, followed by otolaryngologists (60%), diabetes/endocrinology specialists (59%), and pediatricians (58%). Those results were different from last year when the four happiest groups of specialists were allergists, dermatologists, emergency physicians, and ophthalmologists.

Neurologists Are the Least Happy

On the flip side, neurologists were the least happy (45% said they were happy) followed by infectious disease specialists (46%), and cardiologists and pathologists (both 47%).

The survey includes responses from 15,069 Medscape member and nonmember physicians across 29 specialties recruited between July 27 and October 16, 2018.

A group of questions gauged physicians' levels of self-esteem. Women physicians had similar rates of self-esteem as their male colleagues when the category was broken into very low, low, and average esteem, but when it comes to high or very high esteem, men jumped ahead.

Those reporting high self-esteem were more often male (43% vs 36% for women) and the breakdown for reports of very high esteem was 18% for men and 11% for women.

The report authors offer an explanation for the difference from Carol A. Bernstein, MD, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at New York University School of Medicine/NYU Langone Health, who said that while men and women enter medical school in equal numbers, men are more often advanced and promoted.

By specialty, plastic surgeons had the highest percentages reporting high self-esteem at 73%, followed by urologists at 68%. Those with the lowest self-esteem were infectious disease specialists at 47%, followed by oncologists at 48%.

Only 4% of physicians said their profession had a negative influence on their self-esteem. A large majority (80%) said it had a positive or very positive effect.

Most Are in a Committed Relationship

Physicians overwhelmingly report being married (81%) or living with a partner (4%). Of those married, 52% characterize the marriage as very good, 32% say it is good, and 12% rate their marriage as fair. The numbers did not differ much by physician gender.

Otolaryngologists had the highest percentages reporting happy marriages (67%), followed by plastic surgeons and urologists both at 64%. Psychiatrists had the lowest percentage of happy marriages (45%).

The survey also measured physicians' Internet use and found that it was much lower than the general public's.

Authors note that data from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism show that Americans are online an average 24 hours per week, up from 9.4 hours in 2000. Most physicians (70%), on the other hand, use a computer 10 hours or less a week away from work; 23% are online 11-20 hours a week at home.

On the job, more than three-quarters (76%) of doctors spend up to 10 hours per week using the Internet for work.

Most physicians (70%) report they hold spiritual or religious beliefs. Less than a quarter (24%) said they held no such beliefs and 6% said they preferred not to answer. The numbers were down from 80% who had religious or spiritual beliefs in the 2015 survey.

As for vacation time, slightly more than a third of physicians (34%) report they take 2 weeks a year or fewer. The largest percentages of physicians were in the 3- to 4-week vacation sector (43%); 6% of physicians said they take less than 1 week per year.

For comparison, Americans overall took an average 17 days of vacation in 2017, the authors report.

Physicians are also largely light drinkers, the survey found. Almost half (47%) either don't drink at all or drink less than one drink per week. Only 8% say they have seven or more drinks in a week.

The survey margin of error was +/- 0.8% at a 95% confidence interval using a point estimate of 50%.

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