A Medscape Medical News survey released this month shows that rheumatologists are the happiest physicians in the United States, while internists, gastroenterologists, and neurologists are among the least happy.
For its 2012 Physician Lifestyle Report, Medscape surveyed 29,025 U.S. physicians across 25 specialties in January 2012.
The happiest physicians
Survey participants were asked to rate their happiness on a five-point scale. Based on the survey findings, the top 10 happiest physician specialties were:
1. Rheumatology (4.09/5);
2. Dermatology (4.05);
3. Urology (4.04);
4. Ophthalmology (4.03);
5. Emergency Medicine (4.01);
6. Pediatrics (4.00);
6. Anesthesiology (4.00);
8. Psychiatry and mental health (3.99);
8. Radiology (3.99); and
10. Family medicine (3.97).
The happiest physicians tended to exercise regularly, maintain an average weight, consume one to two drinks per day, and not smoke. They also were in good financial shape, married, and participated in a religious organization. Happiness tended to be greatest among physicians who were over 60 years of age.
The least happy physicians
Meanwhile, the 10 least happy physician specialties were:
1. Neurology (3.88);
1. Gastroenterology (3.88);
1. Internal medicine (3.88);
4. Oncology (3.89);
4. General surgery (3.89);
4. Plastic surgery (3.89);
5. Diabetes and endocrinology (3.90);
5. Nephrology (3.90);
5. Critical care (3.90); and
10. Cardiology (3.92).
How physician happiness compares
Overall, physicians in the Medscape survey reported similar happiness levels to the general U.S. population. However, psychotherapist and author Richard O'Connor warns that physicians may be especially prone to unhappiness because many of the qualities critical to success in medical school and the medical field—such as ambition, perfectionism, and drive—may impede happiness. In addition, physicians often face intense training, isolation, and a stressful work environment, which may compound negative emotions.
When a physician's unhappiness is not addressed, it can cause major problems, including medical errors, health issues, burnout, disruptive behavior, addiction, depression, and failed relationships, Medscape reports.
To prevent unhappiness, O'Conner recommends that physicians work to cultivate relationships with family and friends, which often bring long-term joy and satisfaction but can be disrupted by long and unpredictable work hours.
How healthy are U.S. physicians?
Physicians in the Medscape survey also were asked to evaluate their health on a five-point scale.
Based on their responses, the healthiest physicians practiced dermatology, plastic surgery, endocrinology, orthopedics, and cardiology. Meanwhile, the least healthy physicians were intensivists, pediatricians, OB-GYNs, pathologists, and psychiatrists (Medscape report, 3/22; Peckham, Medscape Medical News, 3/22; Reese, Medscape Medical News, 3/22; Wood, Medscape Medical News, 3/22).