How Happy Are You, Doctor?

Physician's Money Digest, July15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 13

Money can't buy happiness, the wise ones say, buta study from the Center for Health Services Researchin Primary Care ( otherwise. Nearly 12,500 US doctorsresponded to the study's survey. Of the respondents,physicians who reported high annual incomesbetween $250,000 and $300,000 were more likely tosay that they were happy in their choice of a professionthan those with lower incomes.

Another not-so-surprising finding from the study:Doctors who work long hours are less likely to behappy with their careers. The study, which found that70% of doctors overall were "satisfied" or "very satisfied"with their medical careers, also found that20% were "dissatisfied," and that physician satisfactionlevels tended to vary by geography and type ofmedical specialty.

More likely to be happy in their jobs were doctorsin New England and states in the Northern Plains likeMinnesota, Iowa, Kansas, and the Dakotas. By specialty,doctors in pediatrics, geriatrics, neonatal medicine,and dermatology generally reported high levelsof professional satisfaction.

On the low-satisfaction end of the scale wereobstetricians, orthopedics, ophthalmologists, andinternists. The high levels of dissatisfaction amongOB/GYN doctors may be related to the malpracticecrisis facing the specialty, especially in states wheremillion-dollar jury awards have gone unchecked.

A high percentage of younger physicians reportbeing very satisfied—perhaps because they haven'tyet approached the burnout that afflicts some middle-aged doctors. An even higher number of doctorsover age 65 report being happy with their jobs, possiblybecause doctors who are dissatisfied with theirmedical careers are more likely to retire before age65, according to the center's economist and leadauthor of the study, Dr. J. Paul Leigh.