How happy is your oncologist?

Dr. Weeks’ Comment: Something to consider…

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”



Oncologists Lower on Happiness Scale Than Most Specialists

Pam Harrison

March 22, 2012 ”” Treating cancer patients for a living might not make for the happiest of specialists, according to the Medscape Physician Lifestyle Report: 2012.

When asked how happy are with their lives outside of work, the average happiness score for oncologists was 3.89 out of 5.00 ”” slightly less than the relatively cheerful happiness score of 3.96 for all physicians who responded to the survey. “With a score of 3.89, oncologists were tied with plastic and general surgeons for twentieth place in the list of 25 specialties surveyed,” write survey author Carol Peckham, director of editorial development, and colleagues from Medscape.

However, oncologists set the bar high when it comes to being married. More than 84% of oncologist respondents reported being married ”” slightly more than the 81% reported by all physician respondents. Oncologists also had an impressively low divorce/separation rate, compared with that reported by all physicians (3.9% vs 5.7%). Oncologists younger than 30 years were also much more likely to be married than their peers in the general population; nearly half of such respondents reported being married.

But marriage does not seem to make oncologists as happy as it appears to make other physicians. Although the highest scores were reported by those living with a partner (unmarried or in a first or subsequent marriage), they were less happy in every marital group than the general physician population.

Oncologists did not differ from other physicians in their favorite pastimes, with the top 5 being reading, exercise or physical activity, travel, cultural events, and food and wine.

Slightly more than half of the survey participants reported taking 2 to 4 weeks of vacation a year, and showed a preference for foreign travel, beach stays, and road trips. Survey responses indicate that about one quarter of oncologists see themselves as socially and fiscally conservative; slightly fewer describe their views as liberal. About one third rarely, if ever, volunteer, but for those who did, any type of volunteer work was associated with a self-rated happiness score higher than the overall average.

Oncologists are also quite spiritual, with almost 83% reporting that they hold religious or spiritual beliefs and 44% actively practicing their faith.

Self-Rated Health

Oncologists rate their health generally on par with other physicians. Some 36% of them reported being overweight, but only 2.5% reported being obese, and about half of the younger oncologists exercised at least 2 times a week. Encouragingly, oncologists were more active as they got older, with 54% of those in their 50s and 65% of those older than 60 exercising at least twice a week.

Smoking was a real no-no in the group overall, with less than 1% admitting to tobacco use. Two thirds of respondents enjoy alcohol, but when they imbibe, they drink modestly, with only 4% indicating they have more than 2 drinks a day. As for cars, the top 5 choices among oncologists were Toyota, Honda, Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.

Social Media and Finances

“No surprise: the use of social media drastically decreases as the age of the oncologist increases,” the survey authors write, with Facebook being the most popular in all age groups, and Twitter the least.

Retirement could be difficult; almost one third report having no or minimal savings for their age and stage of life. However, almost all oncologists who are semiretired report that their savings are adequate or more than adequate.

Terminal Illness?

Perhaps like everyone else, oncologists aren’t sure what they would do if told they had a terminal illness.

Some 52% said they would chose quality over length of life, but responses were decidedly age-dependant; 37% of those 31 to 40 years of age said they would treat their disease aggressively, compared with only about 10% of those 60 years of age.

Spirituality and religious views also played a role. More than 52% of oncologists without a belief system and 56% of those with beliefs but no active practice report that they would choose quality of life over extending life. Slightly fewer (49%) of those with active religious practice report that they would prefer palliative care over lengthening their life.

Carol Peckham and her coauthors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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