BACKGROUND: Although several studies have addressed the role of spouses in physicians' career choices, there is limited data about spousal perception of surgeons' careers after training. This study examined satisfaction with surgeons' careers and potential contributing factors from a spousal standpoint. STUDY DESIGN: A survey of spouses of academic surgeons in 38 participating departments was conducted. Questions included demographic information and perceptions of career satisfaction and contributing factors. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics, Student's t-test or Mann-Whitney U test, and chi-square or Fisher's exact test. RESULTS: Three hundred seventy-nine surveys (27%) were returned, with the majority (81%) perceiving their surgeon spouses to be satisfied. Contributing factors to surgeon dissatisfaction included: work hours/call (42%); practice limitations (18%); reimbursement/income (12%); and malpractice/insurance (7%). Dissatisfied surgeons, as perceived by their spouses, did not differ from satisfied surgeons in terms of work hours, income expectations, geographic desirability, or home involvement. On the other hand, predictors of dissatisfied spouses included lack of input into career decisions, less satisfaction with location, and lack of their surgeon spouses' participation in household and child-care activities. CONCLUSIONS: There are many positive and negative aspects to being an academic surgeon. Yet, despite the time commitment, work hours per se do not appear to contribute to either surgeon or spousal satisfaction. Spousal satisfaction is dependent on surgeon contribution to household and childcare activities. Despite the multiple potential detractors from an academic surgical career, most surgeons, as perceived by their spouses, would not have chosen differently and are satisfied with their career choices.
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