Does Where Doctors Practice Determine Their Professional Satisfaction?

Fourth in a series of five articles on the 2011 MMS Physician Workforce Study

Physicians generally love being doctors. It’s the practice of medicine that troubles them.

Our 2011 Physician Workforce Study again asked physicians for their opinions on the practice environment, and well as the professional rewards of being a doctor.

It’s interesting that the percentage of physicians expressing dissatisfaction with the practice environment has declined significantly since we began asking the question in 2002.

Sixty percent said they were dissatisfied in 2003. That percentage has fallen steadily over the year to 42 percent in the current survey. Those are satisfied rose at a similar rate, 29 percent in 2003 to 42 percent today. So now there’s an exact split between those are satisfied and those who are not.

Why do more doctors today say they’re happier?

One possible factor: Dramatic changes over the last decade in where physicians work. Slightly more than half of physicians who are employed or work in a community health center said they are satisfied, while only 29 percent of self-employed physicians said they were satisfied. We know from other research that the numbers of employed physicians have grown sharply in the last decade.

There is no difference between the answers of specialists or primary care physicians. Women were somewhat more likely than men to express satisfaction with the environment (47% to 40%) and since more women are practicing medicine than in 2003, that could explain some of the change, too.

But let’s not forget: When nearly half of physicians are unhappy with the practice environment something’s not right – these demographic shifts notwithstanding.

If there’s any comfort to be derived from the survey, it’s that physicians still love the profession itself. Eighty-one percent (81%) said they find the profession rewarding or very rewarding. That percentage has held very steady since 2002. There’s no difference in this area between specialists and primary care physicians.

One interesting note: On almost every question, pediatricians were significantly more satisfied with the practice environment. How would you interpret this?

Read the workforce study at www.massmed.org/workforce

Coming tomorrow: Physicians and ACOs. Read the other posts in this series here.

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