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Original Investigation
December 16, 2020

Practice Characteristics and Job Satisfaction of Private Practice and Academic Surgeons

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Surgery, St Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • 2Department of Surgery, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
  • 3Department of Surgery, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill
  • 4Department of Epidemiology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill
  • 5Department of Surgery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville
  • 6Department of Surgery, Wake Forest Baptist Health, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
JAMA Surg. Published online December 16, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2020.5670
Key Points

Question  How do practice characteristics and job satisfaction vary between academic and private practice surgeons?

Findings  In this cross-sectional survey of the American College of Surgeons, academic surgeons were less clinically busy but reported higher satisfaction with career (85% vs 78%) and financial compensation (59% vs 39%) compared with private practice surgeons. Academic surgeons were also less likely to report competition with other surgeons as a threat to financial security (20% vs 39%) and decreased career satisfaction because of malpractice experience (31% vs 49%).

Meaning  This study suggests that advocacy for private practice surgeons is important to encourage career longevity and sustain US surgeon workforce needs.

Abstract

Importance  Private practice and academic surgery careers vary significantly in their daily routine, compensation schemes, and definition of productivity. Data are needed regarding the practice characteristics and job satisfaction of these career paths for surgeons and trainees to make informed career decisions and to identify modifiable factors that may be associated with the health of the surgical workforce.

Objective  To obtain and compare the differences in practice characteristics and career satisfaction measures between academic and private practice surgeons.

Design, Setting, and Participants  In this cross-sectional survey performed from June 4 to August 1, 2018, an online survey accommodating smartphone, tablet, and desktop formats was distributed by email to 25 748 surgeons who were actively practicing fellows of the American College of Surgeons; had completed a general surgery residency or categorical fellowship in plastic, cardiothoracic, or vascular surgery; and had an active email address on file.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Demographic, training, and current practice characteristics were obtained, and satisfaction measures were measured on a 5-point Likert scale and compared by surgeon type. Nonresponse weights adjusted for respondent sex, age, and presence of subspecialty training between respondents and the total surveyed American College of Surgeons population.

Results  There were 3807 responses (15% response rate) from surgeons: 1735 academic surgeons (1390 men [80%]; median age, 53 years [interquartile range (IQR), 44-61 years]) and 1464 private practice surgeons (1276 men [87%]; median age, 56 years [IQR, 48-62 years]); 589 surgeons who reported being neither an academic surgeon nor a private practice surgeon and 19 surgeons who did not respond to questions on their practice type were excluded. Academic surgeons reported working a median of 59 hours weekly (IQR, 38-65 hours) compared with 57 hours weekly (IQR, 45-65 hours) for private practice surgeons. Academic surgeons reported more weekly hours performing nonclinical work than did private practice surgeons (24 hours [IQR, 14-38 hours] vs 9 hours [IQR, 4-17 hours]; P < .001). Academic surgeons were more likely than private practice surgeons to be satisfied with their career as a surgeon (1448 of 1706 [85%] vs 1109 of 1420 [78%]; P < .001) and their financial compensation (997 of 1703 [59%] vs 546 of 1416 [39%]; P < .001). Academic surgeons were less likely than private practice surgeons to feel that competition with other surgeons is a threat to financial security (341 of 1705 [20%] vs 559 of 1422 [39%]; P < .001) and less likely to feel that malpractice experience has decreased job satisfaction (534 of 1703 [31%] vs 686 of 1413 [49%]; P < .001).

Conclusions and Relevance  This study suggests that, although overall surgeon satisfaction was high, academic surgeons reported higher career satisfaction on several measures when compared with private practice surgeons. Advocacy for private practice surgeons is important to encourage career longevity and sustain US surgeon workforce needs.

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