A Surgeon's Secret to Happiness? Don't Marry a Physician

Surgeons who marry physicians suffer greater career conflicts and work-home strife than surgeons who partner with non-physicians, or those who stay at home, according to a new study. Surgeons married to fellow surgeons face even greater challenges.

Surgeons who are married to physicians struggle more in their professional and personal lives than surgeons who marry non-physicians, according to a new study published in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

In an effort to study how dual-physician relationships differ from surgeons whose spouses are not physicians or who stay at home, researchers used a 2008 national survey of nearly 8,000 members of the American College of Surgeons to track issues such as practice characteristics, family lives, and the amount of distress (burnout, depression, etc.), and job satisfaction faced by surgeons.

The study found that surgeons in dual-physician relationships suffered greater career conflicts and work-home conflicts, than those who were married to non-physicians or individuals who were not in the workforce. These individuals were more likely to have “depressive symptoms and low mental quality of life” than surgeons whose partners stayed home, according to the study. Surgeons married to fellow surgeons faced even greater challenges.

“To help facilitate the lives of dual-career couples, healthcare organizations should consider coordinated schedules, daycare [provisions] in the workplace, adjusted timelines for promotion and tenure, and planning for spousal employment during recruitment,” the lead author of the study, Liselotte N. Dyrbye, MD, MHPE, FACP, Associate Professor of Medicine and a Consultant of the Division of Primary Care Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., said in a statement.

Of the 7,905 surgeons who completed the survey, nearly half (48.8%) had partners who did not work outside the home. Among the remaining 3,649 surgeons whose partners worked outside the home, 31.9% said they were fellow physicians, and a little less than a third were surgeon-surgeon couples. Surgeons who are married to, or partnered with, other physicians represent a growing segment of the surgeon population, the survey found. They are also younger and newer to practice than their surgical colleagues who are married to, or partnered with, non-physicians or spouses who did not work outside the home.