The Happiness of Surgeons

Today’s surgery is a far cry from the surgical practice of our fathers and grandfathers, and it shows. Surgeons today report high levels of burnout, job dissatisfaction and depression in a survey of American surgeons reported in a new article by Balch et. al.

A new study by Balch et. al. (Oct 2011) published in the Annals of Surgery, examines the levels of (un)happiness, depression and career (dis)satisfaction among the different surgical specialties.   When compared, surgeons in academic practices reported greater career satisfaction than surgeons working in private practice.  Cardiothoracic surgeons (thoracic surgeons not examined separately as this was an American study) reported the longest workdays, and heaviest workloads but lower rates of dissatisfaction in comparison to trauma surgeons, urologists and several other specialties.  However, all specialties had high rates of disillusionment – as anywhere from fifteen percent(pediatric surgeons) to thirty-six  percent of vascular surgeons surveyed indicated that they would not choose to become a surgeon again.  Thirty-three percent of pediatric surgeons and fifty-four percent of vascular surgeons would not encourage their children to become physicians.

Over a quarter of cardiothoracic surgeons (27.5%*) surveyed would not choose to be surgeons – and almost half (49%**) would not recommend medicine as a career for their children.

Unfortunately, given all the changes in medicine (and surgical practice) regarding compensation and malpractice issues, these results are not surprising.  Surgery has become an increasingly unprofitable business in this country, but surgeons are not prepared adequately in their training to be successful businessmen.  Sometimes being a talented and skilled surgeon just isn’t enough.

* cardiothoracic surgeons ranked 7th highest in this category.

** the third highest rate behind vascular and general surgeons.


Physician’s Money Digest (October 2012) – “Most Overrated Jobs”