Shanafelt says the survey also challenges perceptions that the professional characteristics of physicians' jobs are going to determine whether or not they are satisfied in their personal lives. "There is nothing to suggest that the surgeon is going to have a less-satisfying marriage than a person in a non-surgical specialty or that it is all about the hours worked or if I am in academic or private practice," he says.
"What was striking was when we did the multi-varied analysis, none of the professional characteristics was related to relationship satisfaction, with the exception of the number of nights on call. In some ways, that can be reassuring to physicians who are in some of the greater intensity specialties that demand more hours. Those things unto themselves don't preclude satisfying relationships on the home front."
One of the biggest drivers for spouse or partner satisfaction was the amount of "awake time" spent each day with their physician partners.
"That was far more important than whether they were in a certain specialty and how many hours a week they worked," Shanafelt says. "This could help physicians who are trying to nurture good relationships begin to not blame shortcomings necessarily on the professional life."
"Here again, there was a very strong response affect for that amount of time spent together awake. Each 20-minute increment up was a step up toward a greater degree of satisfaction, and partners and spouses were less likely to consider a divorce," he says. "It seems like you can have a demanding area of specialization and heavy work hours, but if you are making sure you still invest in that personal relationship it can still be of great quality."
The study was funded by the American Medical Association and the Mayo Clinic Department of Medicine Program on Physician Well-being.