Who Do You Think You Are?

September 1, 2009
Bob Keaveney

By now you’ve heard all the assumptions that people make about doctors. You’re a bunch of wealthy, country-club Republicans driving Beemers and living near golf courses. Or are you?


By now you’ve heard all the assumptions that people make about doctors. You’re a bunch of wealthy, country-club Republicans driving Beemers and living near golf courses. You’re mostly male, mostly 50 or older, conservative both politically and personally.

You’re not happy with your career, despite your success. You’re overworked, underpaid, taken for granted, and getting damned resentful about it. You hardly ever see your family anymore.

You’re proud to be a physician. But if you had to do it all over again, you might have just gone to law school or gotten an MBA, or maybe you should have become an orthodontist like your cousin Joe.

Does all that sound about right? Because if it does, then you should know: You’re in the minority.

Yeah, I was pretty surprised, too. But today’s physician is more likely to be a Democrat than a Republican; is not, contrary to popular belief, unhappy with her career path or pessimistic about the future of doctors; and is pretty healthy and happy, despite some complaints about work-life balance. The modern American doctor is, in short, boringly and blissfully consistent in most respects with the majority of other Americans.

How do I know all this? Because we asked. And you told us. As part of our first ever Great American Physician Survey, we asked more than 1,500 doctors about their personal and professional lives, their general sense of well being, and their attitudes toward life and politics. Look for all the dirt in our October issue, print and online at PhysiciansPractice.com. Meanwhile, here’s some of what raised my eyebrows when I looked through the data:

  • You’re not so dissatisfied, after all. In fact, although we wouldn’t exactly call you ecstatic, you’re mostly content with your home life and, yes, your work life. Given the chance to go back and make different educational and career choices, 60 percent of you wouldn’t change a thing. Only 17 percent would have chosen a career outside of medicine.

  • There are few big gender- or age-based differences between you. I keep hearing about the generational differences that are supposed to be tearing so many practices apart. So I expected to see major gaps based on age - in your voting patterns, outlook about work and family, and perhaps even emotional state. But that wasn’t the case. Roughly half of all doctors in every age group (give or take 5 percentage points) say they wish they worked fewer hours. And women were only a bit more likely than men to say they wished they worked less and wanted more personal time.

  • You’re more politically liberal than most people think. Those who voted - and 13 percent of you didn’t, for shame - went for Obama over Sen. John McCain by a 57 percent to 41 percent margin. About four in 10 physicians described themselves as left-of-center, while 34.4 percent lean right. Country-club Republicans? Nope. The left-right split did tend to break right slightly more often with doctors between the ages of 36 and 64. But Obama actually did better with 65-and-older doctors than with any other age group.

There’s much more of this data that we’ll reveal in October; put it together and one begins to see a richer, more textured picture of American physicians. You are a diverse group, resistant to consensus and not easily characterized. In fact, the only cliché about doctors that seems to hold true is my favorite one of all: you’re complicated.

Bob Keaveney is executive editor for Physicians Practice. Have you noticed changes in the nature of American physicians over the last 10 or 20 years? Tell him about it at bobkeaveney@cmpmedica.com. And don’t forget to check out our new blog: Practice Notes.

This article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Physicians Practice.