12 Medical Specialties with Best Quality of Life

It is very hard to objectively determine 12 medical specialties with best quality of life, because whether some lifestyle can be considered good, highly depends on the individual living it. If you think that bigger income, automatically translates into better quality of life, check out our list of the Happiest Medical Specialties with the Most Satisfied Doctors, because that list considers income satisfaction in its rankings.

Choosing a specialty can be a tough call, especially if you don’t have a passionate interest in any particular subject to make your choice more obvious. Medical students usually know the term R.O.A.D. to success, which means that Radiology, Ophthalmology, Anesthesiology and Dermatology are specialties that are paid highly, yet less demanding and offering a better lifestyle than most specialties, and we will see if that common knowledge is corroborated in our list.

12 Medical Specialties with Best Quality of Life


For our ranking, we are using two Medscape surveys – lifestyle report 2017, and physician lifestyle report 2014. From lifestyle report 2017, we are using burnout rates, severity of burnouts, happiness at work, and happiness outside of work across 26 specialties. From physician lifestyle report 2014, we are using rankings which physicians take more than 4 weeks of vacation, using this data seemed to be much better choice than using income data, because what is the point of having money if you don’t have the time to enjoy it? Because the second data set doesn’t include otolaryngology we could not properly rank it, though it seems unlikely that it would have gotten on the list of medical specialties with best quality of life anyway. In places where there was a tie, we used vacation data ranking, to break the tie. Burnout is defined as a loss of enthusiasm for work, and a low sense of personal accomplishment. The overall burnout rate for physicians is 51%, which is not only very high, but is also a significant increase in the time span of 4 years from 40% in 2013. The severity of the burnout in the survey was defined on a scale of 1 to 7, where 1 meant that burnout doesn’t have a significant impact on respondent’s life, while 7 meant that respondent is thinking of leaving medicine. Happiness at work and outside of work, represents the percentage of physicians, who responded that they are either very or extremely happy in the corresponding field of life.

Some people on forums suggest that one of the specialties with good lifestyle is emergency medicine. However, that only seems to be true when you are young, because later in life it becomes harder and harder to recover from stressful night shifts. Working for a few days and then having a few days off might seem good, but considering that off-time is spent recovering from the late shifts it is really not a surprise that emergency medicine has the worst burnout rate at 59 percent. Specialty with the least severe burnout is Infectious Disease with 3.9. Nephrology and Rheumatology are specialties with the worst happiness at work at 24 percent. Rheumatology is also the worst at happiness outside of work at 61 percent, followed by Nephrology at 62 percent. While it did not get on our list of 12 medical specialties with highest quality of life because no physicians belonging to the specialty of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation participated in the survey, it is worth mentioning that it is often joked about that PM&R stands for “plenty of money and relaxation”, and it offers a good work-life balance. Be sure to shadow a doctor of the specialty of interest, because you might realize that is not all that glorious as you imagine it to be. Consider the fact that some tough specialties, can be worked part time for less money of course, but in that way possibly making a much better work-life balance.