Surgeon-Physician Marriages Aren't All Wine and Roses

Surgeons who are married to physicians have more trouble balancing personal and professional life than those whose partner is not a physician, says a new study.

Turns out real life doesn’t quite mirror "Scrubs" or “Grey’s Anatomy.”

New research findings focusing on surgeon domestic partnerships indicate that surgeons who are married to physicians face more challenges in balancing their personal and professional lives than do surgeons whose partners work in a non-physician field or stay at home.

As part of the significant influx of women into the workforce over the last 50 years, more women are now surgeons and physicians than ever before. This trend has produced many more dual-career marriages, including many more dual-physician marriages.

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons focuses specifically on how surgeons fare in being partnered with other surgeons, with other (non-surgical) physicians, with non-physicians or with spouses who stay at home. Using data from a large 2008 national survey of members of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), researchers set out to find how surgeons in dual-physician relationships differ from those whose partners are not physicians in terms of demographics, practice characteristics, family lives, distress (ie, burnout, depression, and quality of life), and job satisfaction.

Liselotte N. Dyrbye, MD, MHPE, and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic found that surgeons in dual physician relationships had a greater incidence of career conflicts and work-home conflicts. Surgeons partnered with fellow surgeons faced even greater challenges in these areas than surgeons partnered with non-surgeon physicians. In addition, surgeons in dual-physician relationships were more likely to have “depressive symptoms and low mental quality of life” than surgeons whose partners stayed home.

“To help facilitate the lives of dual-career couples, health care organizations should consider coordinated schedules, daycare [provisions] in the workplace, adjusted timelines for promotion and tenure, and planning for spousal employment during recruitment,” said Dyrbye in a statement.

The survey was completed by 7,905 ACS members, of whom 7,120 (90%) were married or in domestic partnerships; 48.8% of surgeons’ partners did not work outside the home. Among the remaining 3,649 surgeons whose partner worked outside the home, 31.9% (1,165) indicated their partner was a fellow physician; nearly a third of the physician couples (335 of 1,165) were surgeon-surgeon couples. Surgeons married to or partnered with other physicians, who represent a growing segment of the surgeon population, are younger and newer to practice than their surgical colleagues who are married to or partnered with non-physicians or partners who did not work outside the home.

To read the study, click here.

Do you think that surgeons and physicians who are married experience greater stress? Is it more difficult for those in certain fields to balance personal and professional lives?