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In Practice
Are Neurologists Happy? Spiritual? Answers to These and Other Findings from the 2012 Medscape Physician Survey

Earlier this year, a Medscape survey asked physicians to answer questions about their personal habits and beliefs, and to reveal their lifestyle preferences. Close to 30,000 US physicians answered, including 675 neurologists. We like to think we're generally a happy group of professionals, but surprisingly, given a scale of 1 to 5 — where 1 is very unhappy and 5 is very happy — neurologists rated themselves an average score of 3.88. That ranked us lower than almost all physicians as a group, tying with gastroenterologists and internists as last on the list of 25 specialties. Before you blame your cognitive specialty, consider this astonishing fact: the physician group often most closely identified with neurologists professionally — rheumatologists — were the happiest. Perhaps less surprisingly, dermatologists, urologists and ophthalmologists were the next most happy of all specialists on the list. Gender made little difference, and neither did politics (66 percent of us described ourselves as fiscally conservative, and more than two thirds as social liberals).

While most physicians listed exercise/physical activity as their favorite pastime, it placed second with us, behind reading; we next ranked travel, cultural events (movies, theater and museums), and food and wine, although we do watch our alcohol intake: only 2.19 percent of neurologists report having two or more drinks per day, compared with 2.6 percent of all physicians surveyed.

Our sedentary preference was reflected by our ranking of how often we exercise. Throughout all age groups, neurologists exercised least of the entire population of surveyed physicians. Fortunately, according to our self-reporting, only a third of us admitted we were overweight, about par with other specialties, although our self-assessment of our general physical status seesawed somewhat through age groups, with those of us in our 40s and 60s faring most poorly. Surprisingly, despite our added experience with stroke patients, we had a higher rate of smoking than that of the general physician population surveyed: 2.7 percent vs. 1.8 percent, respectively.

How else do we compare?


The Medscape survey revealed that many neurologists perceived themselves as having financial difficulties. Over 40 percent of neurologists in active practice disclosed that they had minimal or no savings for their age and stage of life, with a meager 12 percent of practicing neurologists stating that their savings were more than adequate.


We don't have quite as much fun as anesthesiologists or radiologists, nearly half of whom answered that they take more than four weeks of vacation each year. Fifty-seven percent of us take two to four weeks of vacation per year, and 12 percent report taking off more than a month, while nearly 30 percent of us take less than two weeks per year off. Neurologists' top vacation choices are foreign travel, followed by beaches, road trips, cultural trips, vacation homes, luxury spas and hotels and cruises.


According to the poll, sixty-eight percent of neurologists are currently married (first marriage) — a figure nearly identical to the rate reported among all physician survey respondents. Finally, some good news: our divorce rate is considerably lower than the overall reported rate among physicians: 2.6 percent vs. 4.6 percent. It's also notable that the percentage of married neurologists in this survey is far higher than that of the general US population, which has fallen from 72 percent in 1970 to just 48 percent in 2011. When self-reported happiness was evaluated according to marital status, neurologist respondents with the highest scores reported that they were living with a partner, whether unmarried or married, and whether in a first or subsequent marriage.


Yes, nearly 78 percent of us reported we have a spiritual or religious belief — compared with nearly 83 percent of all surveyed physicians; the remaining 22 percent have no belief system, a higher rate than that of the general population of physicians. How many of us actively practice our faith or attend services? Just 36 percent.


We were pretty much in sync with other specialties when it came to these responses. Approximately 24 percent of us expressed uncertainty about how we would respond if we were told that we had a terminal illness. Almost 63 percent of us said that we would choose quality over length of life, and only about 14 percent were certain about being treated aggressively, compared to 65 percent and 12 percent of all physicians respectively. As expected, the percentage of neurologists who said they'd choose more aggressive treatments fell through the decades, from about 18 percent at age 31–40 years to 6.7 percent among those older than 61 years.


About 64 percent of neurologists reported participating in some form of volunteerism, compared with 68 percent of all physicians surveyed by Medscape. Overall, the unhappiest physicians were those who didn't volunteer, and likewise, engaging in any type of volunteerism was associated with a higher self-rated happiness score than the overall average. Pro bono clinical work topped the list among neurologists, followed by work associated with a religious organization and tutoring/and or counseling.


Only about 18 percent of neurologists aged 31–40 years do not engage in any form of social media, and about 40 percent of those in their 60s don't use it. Facebook is the most popular tool across all age groups, with over 75 percent of neurologist users in their 30s and more than 34 percent of those older than 61 years. LinkedIn, the professional network, is fairly consistently used by over 20 percent of physicians between the ages of 31 and 60 years. Twitter is not yet widely used by any age group.


Approximately 63 percent of the neurologists who answered the questions about citizenship were born in the United States, and about 8 percent came here as children. Twenty-nine percent of neurologists who responded to the survey came to the United States in adulthood.