Amid ongoing concerns over burnout in medicine, the vast majority of physicians (83%) are happy outside of work, according to a Doximity poll.
The poll of 3,737 physicians, conducted in June 2023, highlights the polarity of physician sentiment at work and outside of work. In recent years, physicians have cited a wide range of issues hampering work satisfaction and professional fulfillment, from hospital safety to administrative burden and overwork. Yet many physicians report happiness on a personal level, regardless of their circumstances at work.
“Physicians are an esteemed part of health care, but often too busy to recognize their own value,” said Rashmi Jain, MD, a nephrologist and internist. “In order to achieve the goal of patient-focused, cost-effective care with high quality outcomes, we should include physician happiness as a top priority to prevent burnout.”
Which Physicians Are Happiest?
Overall, more than half (51%) of physicians who responded to the poll report being “very happy” outside of work, with another 31% being “somewhat happy.” Conversely, 11% are “somewhat unhappy” and 6% are “very unhappy.” These results are relatively consistent, with at least 80% of physicians “very” or “somewhat” happy, regardless of gender, age, or work location.
For “very happy” physicians, however, happiness trends upward with age: 62% in their 70s are “very happy,” compared with 54% in their 60s, 52% in their 50s, 48% in their 40s, 45% in their 30s, and 48% under 30.
“I learned after being the only neurosurgery resident at Cook County 24/7 for three months that happiness is a choice,” said neurosurgeon Charles Miller, MD. “I had been miserable in the best of circumstances and quite happy in the toughest. Now, in my mid-60s, I am grateful to be as happy as I have ever been.”
The trend mirrors findings from other studies that have found greater happiness in older people, who report having more positive emotions and capacity to select their environments and the people they interact with. The pattern may also stem from the benefits afforded by a typical career in medicine, with increasing autonomy, salary, and expertise as one progresses from trainee to attending and beyond.
A higher percentage of surgeons also say they are “very happy” (59%) than nonsurgical specialists (48%) and primary care physicians (47%), though overall levels of happiness — “very” and “somewhat” happy — are nearly the same.
The majority of polled physicians in each specialty say they are happy outside of work. The five specialties with the highest percentage of happy physicians are plastic surgery (92%), orthopaedic surgery (89%), allergy & immunology (89%), family medicine (87%), and endocrinology (87%). In addition, the two specialties with the highest percentage of “very happy” physicians are neurosurgery (71%) and geriatrics (67%). The specialties with the lowest percentage of happy physicians are thoracic surgery (63%), neurology (73%), oncology (76%), emergency medicine (78%), and pediatrics (78%).
In discussing happiness, physicians have emphasized the importance of personal factors such as living close to friends and family, understanding wellness, and pursuing a passion or hobby outside of work.
“It’s very important as health care professionals to do things outside of work that make us happy,” said Nuruddin Jooma, MD, a hematologist/oncologist who practices in Florida. “Otherwise, it will impact all aspects of our lives.”
“Being happy or unhappy is internal,” added Dr. Jain. “It’s important not to let outside circumstances take away your happiness. Nothing is more important than your own health and inner peace.”