Getting personal: Who is today's doctor, anyway?
Our comprehensive national survey explores the ways physicians live and think when they're not at work.
By Mark Crane,
Special Issue Editor
Volumes have been written about physicians' harried professional lives. But once outside the office or hospital, how do doctors spend their time? What do they love, hate, and fear? Are they content with the balance between their private and work lives? Is there such a thing as a "typical" physician?
To find out, we conducted a comprehensive survey of physicians' lifestyles. Earlier this year, we invited 10,000 randomly selected doctors to answer an admittedly intrusive questionnaire. More than 2,000 doctors from all major fields in every part of the country responded, providing intimate details about their personal likes and dislikes, including political and religious beliefs, family life, susceptibility to various vices, musical tastes, recreational preferences, and much more.
What emerges is a portrait of the modern American doctor that seems predictable in some ways, surprising in others. There were many similarities in physician attitudes and lifestyle choices compared with our last survey back in 1979, but also some dramatic differences.
Perhaps it's presumptuous to attempt to define the essence of more than 750,000 diverse individuals who make up the medical profession. However, certain themes and beliefs were fairly consistent and allow us to make reasonable conclusions about today's doctorwith some notable exceptions.
The "typical" physician is serious, responsible, and conservative in both his politics and lifestyle choices. That's hardly news. But he's much more inclined than physicians of previous generations to think that being a good parent and spouse is just as important as being a successful professional. Here's a snapshot of other things we found out:
- 86 percent of the physicians we surveyed are marriedfor 20 years, on average.
- An astounding 93 percent rate their marriages as terrific or good. Still, one in five has gone to marriage counseling, and 12 percent admit to having had an extramarital affair. Back in 1979, there were twice as many physician adulterers.
- Three-quarters of physicians say their sex life (a median of five times per month) is satisfactory.
- 88 percent of physicians have children. Eighty percent of male physicians say their wife is the primary caretaker. For women, only 20 percent can rely on their husbands to do the heavy lifting of parenthood. One-third of physician-moms take care of the kids themselves.
- 78 percent of doctors say they're very satisfied with the experience of being a parent.
- 79 percent of physicians are at least somewhat satisfied with the way they balance work, family, and personal needs.
- Nearly 87 percent of doctors believe in a supreme being. When we asked the same question in 1979, the percentage was 74. About 40 percent of physicians today are actively involved in their house of worship, and say that religion is very important to their daily lives.
- The book that had the greatest impact on their lives is the Bible.
- Politically, 43 percent of physicians call themselves conservative, followed by 39 percent moderate, and 15 percent liberal.
- Almost one-third of doctors own firearms.
- Two-thirds of doctors drink alcoholic beverages. Only 3 percent smoke cigarettes. Another 5 percent smoke cigars or pipes.
- 84 percent of doctors say they've never used marijuana or other illegal drugs, and less than 1 percent say they currently engage in illegal drug use for recreational purposes.
- Physicians don't get out much. Few regularly attend movies, concerts, or sporting events. And most doctors spend little time in front of a television setan hour a day, on average. When they do watch, they typically favor news and sports over most prime-time fare.
- Classical music is the clear favorite of physicians, cited by 42 percent of our respondents.
- Even physician fantasies are fairly subdued. Asked what they'd do with a sudden windfall of $100,000, only a small minority mentioned jetting off to some exotic locale. Most would pay off their debts or set up savings accounts for their children and grandchildren. For every doctor who'd blow the cash on a new Mercedes, there were a couple who'd give it to a women's shelter, their church, local hospital, or alma mater.
- Asked what they would do with an extra two hours a day, most physicians said sleep or spend more time with their families. Many would devote the time to charities or community service activities.
Does any of this sound like you? Or are you among the more unorthodox doctors who say that New Age music is their favorite, or that the soap opera Days of Our Lives represents quality television?
Whether you're "typical" or not, we're sure you'll find plenty to identify with in our articles about what your colleagues think about marriage, parenting, politics, religion and charity, vice, guns, and leisure activities. The final result is a most revealing self-portrait of physicians' personal lives.
Mark Crane. A special issue on doctors' lifestyles. Medical Economics 2000;19:42.