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Happiest Physicians By Specialty in 2024

Plastic surgeons top the list of physicians who feel happiest outside of work for another year running.

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There are many reasons people choose careers in medicine, such as a desire to give back, the drive to advance science, or the allure of financial security. However, the stress of working through the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be affecting physician happiness even 4 years after it started.

Medscape’s 2023 survey of more than 9,100 physicians asked them to report on their happiness and contentment outside of work. Prior to the pandemic, over 80% of doctors reported being happy outside of work. Now, that number has dropped to 59%. Responses in happiness levels, however, vary considerably by specialty.

Happiest specialities

Medscape investigated the happiest physicians by measuring how many physicians from each specialty described themselves as “happy” or “very happy.”

According to the results, doctors in the following fields are happiest outside of work:

  1. Plastic surgery: 71%
  2. Public health and preventive medicine: 69%
  3. Orthopedics: 65%
  4. Otolaryngology: 65%
  5. Urology: 63%
  6. Physical medicine and rehabilitation: 63%
  7. Ophthalmology: 62%
  8. Dermatology: 62%
  9. Pathology: 62%
  10. Gastroenterology: 62% 

Least happy specialties

Conversely, the following specialties have the lowest rates of physician happiness outside of work:

  1. Infectious diseases: 47%
  2. Rheumatology: 51%
  3. Oncology: 51%
  4. Neurology: 54%
  5. Allergy and immunology: 55%
  6. Critical care: 55%
  7. Emergency medicine: 55%
  8. Cardiology: 56%
  9. Family medicine: 56%
  10. Internal medicine: 57%

The most and least happy physicians by specialty are similar to the previous 2022 results, with infectious diseases specialties also scoring low in 2022.

Physician lifestyle and happiness

The Medscape report examined several lifestyle factors affecting physician happiness at home, including marriage satisfaction, work-life balance, physical activity, and more.

Sex and gender

According to the survey, female family physicians consistently experience burnout at higher rates than their male counterparts.

Reasons Medscape suggests for this difference include higher risks of gender or race-based microaggressions, and workplace distress.

Also, more female family physicians report feeling conflicted about balancing parental responsibilities with work demands.

Marriage and relationships

The survey found that almost 90% of male family physicians and 78% of female family physicians were married or living with a partner.

More than 8 out of 10 family physicians described their marriages as “good” or “very good.”

Work-life balance

Around 53% of physicians surveyed reported that they would take some kind of pay cut for a better work-life balance.

A rebalance of work and pay may be motivated by conflicts about balancing home and work responsibilities.

Many physicians also report work demands such as high amounts of bureaucratic tasks and long work hours contributing to feelings of burnout.

Physical activity and wellness

As you likely tell your patients, physical activity is known to improve mood and resilience as well as physical health, and many physicians do take their own advice. Almost 35% of family physicians report exercising 4 times per week or more.

Still, around 31% of family physicians are physically active once a week or less.

The top strategies physicians reported using to maintain happiness and good mental health included:

  • engaging with hobbies, such as reading or gardening
  • spending time with friends or family
  • physical activity
  • getting enough sleep
  • eating well
  • going to therapy 

Other factors

Other factors related to decreased happiness, such as:

  • feelings of burnout 
  • decreased vacation time 
  • the COVID-19 pandemic
  • higher rates of low mood and clinical depression
  • world issues

Summary

Although some traits of medical work may affect happiness, you can be happy with your life outside clinic doors.

Key factors affecting physician happiness include work-life balance, relationships, and self-care strategies such as exercise.

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  1. Medscape Physician Lifestyle, Happiness & Burnout Report 2023: Contentment Amid Stress.
    https://www.medscape.com/slideshow/2023-lifestyle-happiness-6015969
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