Healthgrades for Professionals

9 Things Physicians Do to Stay Happy

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  • Physician burnout continues to rise and happiness levels have dipped since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Medscape surveyed 12,000 physicians for their 2021 Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report and found that 82% of physicians were somewhat or very happy before the pandemic. Now, only 58% say they’re happy as the situation continues. How can you avoid the downward spiral? The survey also revealed ways physicians stay happy, despite new stressors in their lives. With a little effort, a few small changes to your routine can boost your happiness at home and at work.

  • 1
    Make time for hobbies.
    Father and adult son playing chess and laughing

    When your workload and stress levels increase, it’s even more important to keep doing the things you love outside of work. Hobbies topped the Medscape list with 66% of physicians reporting that their favorite activities help them maintain their mental health. Gardening, cooking, and reading were popular hobbies that can easily be worked into a daily routine. Don’t have a hobby? Try taking an online class on your own or with friends or family. The novelty of learning new skills is energizing and provides an activity to look forward to when the work day is done.

  • 2
    Exercise a few days a week.
    woman playing pickleball in court

    The survey showed that 71% of physicians exercise at least twice a week. Many workout to lose weight, but a lot of doctors use physical activity to burn off extra energy and relieve stress. Taking a break for fitness is also a great way to unplug from technology, enjoy the outdoors, and take a break from your thoughts. Exercising can also energize your mind and help you solve problems. Some physicians have found that regular exercise even motivated them to encourage their patients to live healthier lifestyles.

  • 3
    Spend time with loved ones.
    happy couple eating dinner outside

    Nearly 85% of all physicians are in a committed relationship and 85% also report their relationship is good or very good. These positive feelings about relationships indicate that spending time with partners and loved ones is a big factor in physician happiness. Which doctors have the best relationships? Pulmonologists, dermatologists, opthamologists, and urologists top the list. Psychiatrists and critical care doctors report the lowest satisfaction with their marriages, but 43% of them are still pretty happy.

  • 4
    Get enough sleep.
    sleeping man

    Happy physicians love catching a few extra z’s. Sleep is a priority for 49% of physicians who are snoozing more to stay happy. Long hours are a given in the medical profession, especially during a pandemic. Try to get the recommended 6 hours, so your body can recover from the day and operate at its best tomorrow. This valuable sleep time also gives your brain and hormones time to reset. Stress levels can normalize and your glymphatic system can clean your brain to keep your cognitive abilities sharp.

  • 5
    Eat a healthy diet.
    Close-up of middle age Caucasian woman tossing salad with spinach and vegetables

    It’s not always easy to eat healthy meals when you’re tired or handling difficult situations at work. Of the 12,000 physicians surveyed by Medscape, 45% said healthy eating was a priority for maintaining their happiness and mental health. A nutritious diet may also be on the list because 48% of the survey participants were also trying to lose weight. Taking time to prepare good-for-you meals to eat at home or on the go is an excellent self-care routine that can keep you happy and feeling your best.

  • 6
    Make time for mental health care.
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    Spending time on personal well-being was listed as a priority by 35% of the physicians in the Medscape study and 7% reported that therapy was beneficial to their happiness. Mental wellness is vital to a physician’s work, no matter how you go about it. If therapy isn’t your thing, you can try other calming practices like meditation, yoga, or tai chi. A doctor in a different study reported that she sets positive daily intentions to raise her happiness level.

  • 7
    Practice spirituality.
    Woman praying outdoors

    In the Medscape study, 69% of doctors said they’re religious and another report shows that more than 40% of physicians actively participate in religious practices. Regardless of where your spiritual beliefs lie, staying connected to your spiritual side can help reduce stress and improve your empathy and compassion at work. Spiritual practices are often done in group settings, which can boost happiness levels by fulfilling social needs. If you’re looking for opportunities to explore your spiritual side, you may want to ask your fellow physicians for recommendations.

  • 8
    Give back.
    Photo of a volunteer doctor giving checkup to underprivileged kid

    Physicians don’t just give of themselves at work. Nearly two-thirds of all doctors do some kind of volunteer work. If helping others was the reason you became a doctor, volunteering will give you even more of the happy vibes you thrive on. Many doctors choose to use their skills to provide free medical services locally or with international causes. Volunteering with religious organizations, tutoring, and counseling are other popular volunteer roles where you’ll find other physicians donating their time and talent.

  • 9
    Take a vacation.
    middle-aged-couple-smiling-for-selfie

    Hobbies and family time keep physicians feeling good day to day, but sometimes you need to get away from your routine for a full happiness reset. Nearly half of all physicians take 3 to 4 weeks of vacation and one-fifth take five weeks or more. Why does vacation make physicians happy? A change of scenery removes everyday stressors and provides more time and space to relax. Anticipating a vacation can even make you feel more optimistic, so get your 4 to 5 weeks on the books right now.

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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2021. Medscape. https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2021-lifestyle-happiness-6013446?src=ban_lifestyle2021_desk_mscpmrk_hp#7
  2. Physician burnout: Which medical specialties feel the most stress. American Medical Association. https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/19/mental-health-doctor-residency/
  3. Healthcare Personnel and First Responders: How to Cope with Stress and Build Resilience During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/mental-health-healthcare.html
  4. 10 tips that make me a happy doctor. Kevin MD. https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2018/02/10-tips-make-mostly-happy-doctor.html
  5. Medical Student Perspective: 10 Tips on How to Be Happy in Medical School. American College of Physicians. https://www.acponline.org/membership/medical-students/acp-impact/archive/september-2014/medical-student-perspective-10-tips-on-how-to-be-happy-in-medical-school
  6. 12 Things No One Tells You About Pursuing a Career in Medicine. St. George’s University. https://www.sgu.edu/blog/medical/unexpected-things-about-pursuing-a-career-in-medicine/