April 2013




Are you happy now?

by John DiConsiglio EyeWorld Contributing Writer

What makes you happy? Four weeks of vacation? Volunteer work? Time with family? A new survey ranks ophthalmologists among the happiest specialists. Where are you on the happiness scale?

Now and then Robert Sinskey, MD, runs into a fellow ophthalmologist who's still practicing in his 70s. Sinskey, 88, retired more than 10 years ago. When, he asks his colleague, are you going to quit the grind? "You know what they tell me?" he laughed. "'What would I do if I retired?'"

What would they do? Dr. Sinskey could give them a list. How about bicycling through Bordeaux? Or skiing in the Utah mountains? Or scuba diving from Malibu to Mexico? They could run a vineyard in Napa or spend quality time with their grandchildren in their Santa Monica home.

"There are so many pleasures in life," Dr. Sinskey said. "You just have to find the ones that make you happy."

Maybe Dr. Sinskey is an unfair example. Not everyone has the resources or the energyto bike, ski, and scuba around the world, while spearheading the building of an eyecare clinic in Ethiopia and tasting wines throughout California. But according to a new Medscape survey, ophthalmologists are pretty successful at finding their own paths to happiness. The 2012 Medscape Ophthalmologist Lifestyle Report ranks ophthalmologists among the happiest of U.S. physicians, landing fourth in a survey of 25 specialty areas. Ophthalmologists scored higher than the average physicians and the general populationin a host of health and happiness categories, like exercise and fitness.

Ophthalmologists enjoy more vacation time than many other specialties, with 19% taking more than four weeks off each year and 30% vacationing for two weeks or less. About 80% of ophthalmologists participate in volunteer activities, usually clinical pro bono work or religious-based endeavors. Overall, ophthalmologists rated their happiness as a 4.03 on a scale of 5trailing only rheumatologists (4.09), dermatologists (4.05), and urologists (4.04).

"It's the queen of specialties," said John Pinto, president of J. Pinto and Associates Inc., an ophthalmic practice management consulting firm in San Diego. "My well-adjusted clients realize they've got it pretty darn goodclinically, economically, professionally. They have a very nice lifestyle."

Miracle workers

No two peopleor two ophthalmologistsdefine happiness in the exact same way. For some, it's after-hours in the office. For others, it's long weekends with the family. But while happiness is subjective, it reflects the priorities we chooseand how they are shaping up in our lives, said Craig N. Piso, PhD, president of Piso and Associates, LLC, an organizational development consulting firm in Larksville, Pa. "Our perception defines our reality," said Dr. Piso who, along with Mr. Pinto, conducted a 2009 report on ophthalmologists' career and lifestyle happiness. "Let's say I perceive that a great relationship with my spouse is what's important to me," said Dr. Piso, the author of "Healthy Power: Pathways to Success in Work, Love and Life." "If that's faring poorly, it will be hard for me to feel happy even if my practice is going quite well."

For most ophthalmologists, career satisfaction ranks at the top of their priority list, Dr. Piso said. Luckily, the specialty itself offers the kind of professional perks that may elude other physicians. "It's neat, it's clean, there's almost no blood, almost nobody ever dies on the operating table, and you get paid well financially as well as in the human factor," he noted. When, for example, an ophthalmologist performs cataract surgery or a lens implant and helps a near-blind person restore 20/20 vision, he seems to have worked a miracle. "The gratitude from your patients can be thrilling," Dr. Piso said.

When Dr. Sinskey completed medical school, he considered a career in general surgery or neurosurgery. He even thought about becoming an ear, nose and throat doctor, like his father. But Dr. Sinskey remembered his dad's laser-sharp focus on his workand his death of hypertension in his 60s. As he watched other surgeons endure through harrowing 12-hour procedures, Dr. Sinskey realized those specialties didn't fit his lifestyle priorities. "When you have passion for what you are doing, it's not work," Dr. Sinskey said. "If you're looking at your watch all day, you are in deep trouble. But if you like your work, it's great. You feel tired, but it's a happy-tired."

Still, Dr. Piso warned that the same strengths that often help an ophthalmologist forge a thriving practicetraits like determination and a healthy dose of egocan backfire and become a hindrance to happiness. "You need to be egotistical to make it in ophthalmology. You need to believe you're the cream of the crop," Dr. Piso noted. "But if you have too much or too little drivenness, you miss the sweet spot for happiness and success." Physicians who invest their energies into growing their practices for their patients' sake say their hard work is worthwhile. But, Dr. Piso noted, those who labor through extra hours simply to buy a new Mercedes rarely reach their happiness goals. "It's like an addiction. It never leaves you satisfied for very long," he said. "You're always going to want a new toy."

Happiness Rx

But while an ophthalmologist's work may dominate his life, the happiest ones find time to enjoy pleasures away from the office, according to the Medscape survey. Exercise and physical activitywalking, running, swimming, bikingranked highest among ophthalmologists' favorite pastimes. Reading and travel followed closely behind. More than 30% admitted that surfing the web was their favorite pastime.

Likewise, volunteer activities play a significant role in the lives of happy ophthalmologistsand physicians in general. The unhappiest physicians on the Medscape survey were those who reported not volunteering at all. The results were similar to a 2000 University of Illinois report that found that physicians who viewed "giving back" as a guiding principle in their lives reported greater personal satisfaction. "Take care of yourself and then invest in a purpose greater than yourself," Dr. Piso said. "That operating system governs human happiness."

Of course, not all ophthalmologists are as happy as others. Mr. Pinto suggested that some ophthalmic subspecialties offer more positive outcomes than others. A retina specialist, for example, may spend his days giving painful injections that only offer temporary relief from a progressive disease. "That's different from being in happy cataract land, restoring patients' sight and having them walk away so very grateful," he said.

Still, for more ophthalmologists, the career offers a work-life balance that's unique to many medical specialties. "They are in control of their practices and their lives. They have riches and rewards, including the intangible rewards of fulfillment, appreciation, good physical health, good mental health, and emotional strength," Dr. Piso said. "That might be the definition of happiness."

Contact information

Piso: cpiso@pisoandassociates.com

Are you happy now? Are you happy now?
Ophthalmology News - EyeWorld Magazine
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