This article was originally published on May 25, 2020 and has since been updated.
No matter which medical specialty you choose, the most satisfied physicians are the ones who put their wellbeing, and the wellbeing of their patients, first. This is why it’s important to choose an area of medicine that makes you and your future life happiness a top priority. We hear the question "What are the happiest medical specialities?".
But how do you quantify happiness? Using the results from the latest Medscape survey on doctor wellbeing and a review of academic research on physician happiness worldwide, we’ve pulled together 10 of the happiest medical specialties.
Although the pandemic has been hard on even the best medical specialties for work life balance, there are some groups of physicians who report feeling more happiness, more often. They have happy marriages, make time for themselves and others, take at least some time for vacation and keep negative-coping strategies low.
Our top 10 list of the happiest doctor specialties:
- Family Medicine
- Clinical Immunology/Allergy
- General/Clinical Pathology
1. Family Medicine
Family medicine is the primary care specialty in Canada. Family doctors in Canada focus on caring for the community as a whole. Thanks to its direct work with patients, it is one of the most fulfilling specialties, especially if you like interacting with people. In the nature.com review of literature on physician happiness, family medicine professionals (especially male ones) were some of the happiest doctors overall.
Family medicine tends to offer normal work hours and a good social life. Not only can you join other doctors at an already established office but you can also buy or set up your own medical practice for even more flexibility.
Even though it sounds like a mouthful, otolaryngologists actually specialize in the ears, nose, and throat. And as of the 2022 Medscape study, these head and neck specialists are the most likely to report happy marriages.
According to the CMA, otolaryngologists work relatively stable working hours (at around 60 hours per week) and earn around $318,950 a year after overhead. With 65% of them satisfied with their current professional life, and almost half of them satisfied with their work life balance, otolaryngologists have the potential to be one of the most satisfied physicians overall.
A dermatologist focuses on the problems of the skin, mouth, external genitalia, hair, and nails.
This specialty, like family medicine, offers a fixed number of office hours and an opportunity to interact and form long-term relationships with your patients. It frequently appears in lists of the happiest medical specialties, owing to good work life balance and high pay.
As an Anesthesiologist, your job is to provide pain management, critical care, and perioperative care. You may have to work long hours, but you’ll have better control over your time. This is considered to be one of the less stressful specialties. Moreover, if you’re an introvert then this doctor specialty can be great for you since there’s very little to no patient interaction (no time for small talk if you’ve done a good job putting the patient to sleep!).
As an Ophthalmologist, you’ll be involved with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and issues that are associated with the eye. Ophthalmology is one of the highest paid specialties in Canada, and since doctors typically work out of private clinics, they have good control over their working hours and a not-too-stressful patient load. The specialty offers the opportunity to build patient-loyalty over a period of time.
If you love kids, then this will be one of the most satisfying and fulfilling medical specialties for you. As a Pediatrician, your primary focus would be on the physical, emotional, and social health of infants and kids. According to the nature.com survey, these doctors show pride in their profession, a concern for the well-being of children, and love having the opportunity to do good — all of which gives meaning to their work and keeps them happier overall.
Not only does psychiatry as a medical specialty pay well, but it also offers a shorter work week than other specialties. Psychiatrists are highly in-demand across Canada, and since it’s one of the only medical specialties that can take their practice fully virtual, it can offer you a lot in terms of flexibility as well. Since 72% of psychiatrists are satisfied with their professional lives, psychiatry might be one of the best medical specialties for work life balance in general.
8. Clinical Immunology/Allergy
As a clinical immunologist/allergist, you’ll be dealing with some of the atypical responses of the body’s immune system. This medical field helps generally healthy patients with small medical problems, and often includes working with children. These specialists are the second most likely to have a happy marriage outside of work, according to the Medscape survey, and since over half of them work out of private clinics, they can offer regular working hours most of the time.
9. General/Clinical Pathology
A Pathologist (general or clinical) is primarily involved in learning about the causes, forms, and diagnosis of a disease. Great for introverts more interested in solving complex puzzles than working with people, pathologists normally work as a consultant to other physicians and advise them of a possible course of treatment. Overwhelmingly (76%) happy with their professional lives as a whole, pathology is one of the best medical specialties for work/life balance and hosts some of the most satisfied physicians.
A nephrologist treats diseases and infections of the kidneys and urinary system. Since you work on finding solutions to highly specialized issues, nephrologists are often connected to teaching hospitals or to academic medicine in some capacity. This can sometimes mean longer hours, but nephrologists don’t seem to mind — in a survey of doctors by the CMA, 74% of nephrologists are satisfied with their professional lives.
Which type of physician takes the shortest time to become?
In general medical training varies from medical field to person and from education to experience. Several medical professions may have shorter residency time, including family and emergency medical care. The ability of the doctor will require extensive education, regardless of the specialty of the doctor. We've created the most in-depth list of 39 specialities and their sub-specialities.
What Medical Speciality is the Right Choice For you?
Helping patients, saving lives, earning comfortable wages, and garnering the respect of your peers are some of the great reasons to pursue a career in medicine. However, when it comes to choosing a specialty, you must keep your personality and your life’s long-term goals in mind. To be efficient at your job, you need to feel fulfilled and happy as you work.
You know you’ve chosen the right specialty when the study of it excites you and you’re just as happy going to work as you are after you’re done for the day. That’s where the ‘work-life balance’ really comes into the picture.
Being satisfied in your career is a crucial aspect to consider when exploring your medical specialty options. The way you feel at work will often spill over into your personal life and can affect your health and relationships overall, so a good choice of specialty can affect all aspects of your future life.
Dr. Nour Khatib left medical school for a finance career, but a persistent calling encouraged her to return years later and become an emergency physician.