All medical specialties are stressful, as evidenced by almost two-thirds of US physicians who feel depressed and burned out, and it would be a smart move for medical interns and residents to consider some of the doctor specialties with best lifestyle when making a career choice. Those pursuing a career in healthcare know that saving lives, making the world a better place, and being excellent in what you do, is just one side of the coin. The other one is that many of them are not going to spend the upcoming holidays with their family and friends. For them, Christmas Eve or New Years is just another day at work.
But, let’s start from the beginning. We all know that getting through medical school is hard, however, the real challenges usually start right after graduation. During residency, which can last from three to seven years, depending on chosen specialty, doctors in training typically spend around 80 hours a week in the hospital. Even though it’s a bit easier once they finish with residency, the working hours are still long. Knowing the most Americans work on average 34.4 hours per week, the fact that almost 60% of physicians are working more than 50 hours per week definitely sounds overwhelming. In these circumstances, good sleep is a luxury.
Long hours, stressful working conditions, frustration, and chronic anxiety are just some of the difficulties physicians encounter during their careers. Many of them realize too late that they are not cut out for the job. Furthermore, those who suppress their emotions and don’t develop different coping mechanisms to deal with them, are more prone to experiencing burnout and severe depression later on. It’s quite interesting that too many bureaucratic tasks is the main reason physicians across specialties experience burnout. Moreover, according to the last year’s physician satisfaction survey, a happier and healthier environment can make a difference when it comes to reducing physician burnout and depression rates. Sadly, we are all aware that untreated depression can cause serious consequences and potentially lead to suicide. In the US, one doctor commits suicide every day. That’s 28 to 40 suicides per 100,000 people. Given the statistics, medicine is one of the professions with the highest suicide rates in the country. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma against seeking mental health support, and 67% of medical residents in the country agree with this. However, there are some bright examples over the pond. England’s programme of national funding for a health support scheme for all NHS doctors in the country is a great way of prioritizing doctors’ mental health. Over the last year, more than 1,500 GPs received support, while more than 70% of those who’ve been treated this way returned to work.
So, one of the conclusions would be that physicians should work less. Moreover, it’s proven that working less brings a drop in medical errors. However, the demand for physicians is rapidly increasing because of the growth and aging of the population. The predictions are alarming. By 2030, there will be a shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians in the US. So, working less isn’t something doctors can look forward to, at least not at any time soon.
Among the other things to consider when choosing a doctor specialty, is one’s personality. Allegedly, certain personality traits tend to pair up with particular specialties. After all, personality is of great importance when it comes to an individual’s adaptation to a job. And while there’s a number of medical specialty quizzes available online, one shouldn’t rely just on them when choosing a career path. There’s actually a number of studies elaborating the term medical specialty personality which can be read before making any decisions. Researchers like Stephen A. Woods from the University of Surrey, Guildford, UK, as well as Nicole J. Borges and Mark L. Savickas from Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine, suggest the role of personality in specialty choice is huge, and that there is a connection between personality factors and certain medical specialties. Some of the studies even went a step further, trying to define different medical personalities like surgical, etc.
But, when we put emotional and physical demands of the job aside, what we are left with is money. The top medical specialties, from the earnings perspective, include plastic surgery, orthopedics, and cardiology followed by gastroenterology, and radiology, which make more than $350,000 a year. However, the money can’t buy happiness, and some of the wealthiest doctors are not always the happiest ones. For instance, gastroenterologists are among the least happy doctors alongside internal medicine doctors, even though those are some of the least stressful medical specialties and careers that pay well. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum are rheumatologists as the happiest doctors in 2018, earning almost half as much as gastroenterologists. Furthermore, when comparing the average annual compensation, the earnings of male medical specialists are substantially higher than the earnings of their female colleagues, with male doctors earning 36% more than females. Whether the reasons are longer hours or higher level of productivity, the compensation disparity goes up to 50% in favor of male physicians, in states like Maryland, for example. In addition, Maryland is one of the lowest earning states for physicians overall, with an average of $256 000.
Now, let’s get back to our list of medical specialties with best quality of life. Among the important factors influencing a physician’s lifestyle, and consequently their performance and patient safety are work hours, what we earlier emphasized, so our first stop was the JAMA Network analyses of annual work hours across physician specialties. Even though the healthy work limit is set at 39 hours a week according to research from The Australian National University, we decided to stick to the 48-50 hour week and single out medical specialties which satisfy this requirement. Then we breezed through the Medscape Physician Compensation 2018 report and checked out the average doctor salaries by specialty and whether they feel fairly compensated. In addition, the Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report 2018 gave us an insight in which doctors are happiest at and outside of work. We also used its happiest medical specialties 2017 report to check out last year’s trends. Lastly, we included the percentage of doctors by specialty who are taking more than four weeks of vacation each year and are healthiest. That way we retrieved the best information on the web about physician satisfaction by specialty. And while some of the most satisfied medical specialists, like pathologists, didn’t end up on our list, you can read about others on the following pages. So, after giving points to each medical specialty (from 1 to 10 being the best) according to the factors mentioned above, we compiled the list of doctor specialties with best lifestyle with the best medical specialty for work life balance being placed first.