Science defines happiness as a combination of both mental and positive emotional states. Subjectively speaking and in the context of life satisfaction, it is often associated with an overall feeling of contentment and well-being.
Statistics on Physician Happiness
Fifteen thousand physicians from 29 different specializations in the United States were surveyed by Medscape in 2018. Doctors were asked how happy they were outside of their profession. Fifty-two percent reported they were happy while 9% said they were unhappy.
Whether associated with their particular specialty or merely by chance, rheumatologists topped the list. They were closely followed by otolaryngologists, and endocrinologists. Neurologists were the least happy, followed by infectious disease specialists, cardiologists, and pathologists.
Factors Affecting Happiness
What makes a physician happy outside of work? Although the wise Aristotle said ‘happiness is greatly dependent on a person’, external factors can influence one’s happiness.
One factor affecting the level of happiness outside work is the physician’s level of self-esteem. Interestingly, men were noted to have higher self-esteem. According to Dr. Carol Bernstein, professor of psychiatry and neurology at the New York University School of Medicine, this is attributed to men being more likely to be promoted in their line of work.
Among all the specialists, plastic surgeons had the highest self-esteem, with urologists following closely. Infectious specialists and oncologists sadly had the lowest self-esteem. But why do some have higher self-esteem than others considering they are in the same profession?
Doctors appear confident most of the time. Studies show that being a doctor alone has a profound impact on a doctor’s life. Majority of physicians believe that the amount of knowledge and skill they acquire from medical school equip them enough to go out into the world and apply all they have learned. This helps build self-esteem, naturally translating into higher confidence and happiness even outside of work.
For some doctors though, mistakes and failures can leave them second-guessing themselves. These make them wonder if they are good enough to become doctors capable of making clinically sound decisions. Having a low self-esteem can make someone unhappy, not just within the walls of one’s profession but outside as well.
Aside from self-esteem and self-perception, successful relationships also play a major factor in happiness outside work. Coincidentally, doctors who were reported to have a high self-esteem were also the ones who have happy marriages. According to the Journal of European Psychology, having high self-esteem is beneficial in romantic relationships and has a positive effect also on the partner’s happiness within the relationship.
Spiritual and Religious Life
Most physicians in the study reported holding spiritual and religious beliefs. A study published in the Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings noted that those who were spiritual tend to have a more positive outlook and a better quality of life. This helped when it came to coping with the loss involved in one’s practice and in managing the loss so as not to affect one’s disposition at home or outside of work.
Burnout is defined as a loss of enthusiasm for work and a low sense of personal accomplishment. The burnout rate for physicians is at 51%, one of the highest among all professions.
Half of all doctors worldwide will experience some form of burnout sooner or later in their career. To prevent this, mandatory breaks should be considered. In this study, physicians who reported having 3 to 4-week vacations yearly were amongst the happiest with the best quality of life.
Most physicians were reported to be light drinkers with almost half of them having just one drink per week or not having a drink at all. Drinking doesn’t necessarily mean being unhappy and vice versa. In some cases, drinking translates to more time spent socializing, which may mean that one has a life outside his chosen profession.
According to the, socializing is an important part of one’s overall happiness, even doctors. Not only can it be a source of enjoyment, but it can also develop one’s people skills. It provides opportunities to know more about others while knowing oneself in the process.
According to the, an individual must have at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly in order to enjoy its benefits to one's health and overall disposition.
Exercising at least 3 times a week does not just stimulate the good hormones. It can also be a perfect opportunity to relax and unwind. Through exercise, one can forget about the stresses associated with his/her profession.
In theby Medscape, most of the specialists reporting a high happiness rating at work or outside of it, attributed it to any of the following:
- Having predictable work hours or having a private practice wherein one has control over how much and when one works
- Being able to take more than 4 weeks of vacation yearly
- Having a lower number of terminally ill patients throughout one’s career
- For dermatologists, cosmetic and plastic surgeons specifically, making people happy by making them look and feel better
- Being compensated well in one’s practice
What goes on in work or outside of it plays a significant role in one’s happiness. Work may sometimes be unbearable for doctors but maintaining fruitful relationships outside of work, having a healthy spiritual life, making time for recreation, exercising, and spending time with family and friends, make all the difference.
- Marcia Frellick. Physicians Rate Happiness High in Life Outside Work: Survey Medscape - Jan 10, 2019.
- Why So Many Doctors Lack Self-confidence, and How to Get It Back - Medscape - Aug 26, 2015.
- PuchalskiCM MD. The role of spirituality in health care. Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2001 Oct; 14(4): 352–357.PMCID: PMC1305900PMID:
- Carol Peckham, Carol. Medscape Physician lifestyle and happiness report 2018.
- Vassar, Lynda. How one program achieved resident work-life balance, 2015. Accessed through on February 3, 2019.
- Erol, Ruth & Orth, Ulrich. (2016). Self-Esteem and the Quality of Romantic Relationships. European Psychologist. 21. 274-283. 10.1027/1016-9040/a000259. Accessed through on February 2, 2019.