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61% of Doctors Say Work Gets in the Way of Maintaining Friendships

Nearly two-thirds of doctors said work gets in the way of maintaining friendships, according to a survey by Medscape UK.

A survey of 1027 UK doctors revealed that 61% said that work 'always or sometimes' gets in the way of maintaining friendships. Not having enough time was the top reason cited by 7 out of 10 doctors (68%) for not being able to maintain strong friendships. The survey was conducted from September to December 2022 to find out more about how friendships impact the lives of doctors. 

When asked how many friends they had, the majority (33%) said they had 16 or more friends, while 26% said they had between 6-10 and 24% said they had between 1-5. The number who said they had between 6-10 was higher (28%) for doctors aged 45 and older, while the number who said they had 11-15 friends increased for those aged under 45.

When asked if they had a best friend, that wasn't a spouse or partner, 55% overall responded 'Yes', while 45% said 'No'. Those aged under 45 were more likely to say 'Yes' (60%), while a higher-than-average percentage of those 45+ said 'No' (47%). 

Friends at Work

When asked how many of their co-workers they considered friends, most doctors replied 'Some of them' (79%). A further 10% said 'Almost all' of their co-workers were friends, while 12% said they considered 'None' of their co-workers to be friends. GPs were more likely than average to consider 'almost all' co-workers friends (18%), while specialist doctors were more likely than average to consider 'Some' of their co-workers as friends (79%), as were doctors who worked in hospitals (83%). GPs, those aged under 45, and doctors who worked in office settings were less likely to see co-workers as friends (19%, 18%, and 21%, respectively).

Doctors were most often friends with other doctors, especially if they were younger. Of those surveyed, 81% described their friends at work as 'physicians', 20% as 'Nurses', 22% as 'other healthcare professionals', 9% as 'administration', and only 3% as 'none of the above'. For those under 45, 95% described their friends as 'physicians'.

Doctors often socialise at work. UK doctors also revealed that the majority 'constantly or frequently' interacted with work friends at work (52%). 'Sometimes' and 'Rarely' both had 34% of respondents, while 13% said they 'never' interacted with work friends while at work.

However, work was also cited by 61% of doctors as a reason they had problems maintaining friendships. Other reasons given for difficulties in maintaining friendships was 'Not enough time' (68%), 'Growing Apart' (24%), and 'Lack of Communication' (20%). Lack of time was especially a reason for women doctors and those aged under 45 (72% and 76%, respectively).

One of the doctors surveyed said: "The pressure of my profession and the maintenance of relationships are often tied together which makes it difficult to begin and maintain friendships."

Another said: "I'm working overtime every weekend and barely keeping on top of managing the home, husband, and dogs. I don’t have time or energy for anything or anyone else."

Friends with Patients?

While the majority of doctors (85%), said they had not become friends with patients, 15% responded that they had. This percentage was higher than average for men (20%) and doctors aged 45 and older (19%).

A large majority (90%) of doctors said they had given medical advice to a friend. Asked if they were bothered by medical questions from friends, the majority said they were not bothered (74%).

Asked if doctors should 'avoid treating close friends?' only 12% said 'No', 44% responded 'Yes, always', and 43% said friendship with a patient was ok but only when the friendship didn't interfere with the doctor's ability to be objective. More female doctors (53%) said it was always ok to treat a close friend, while men (19%), older doctors (14%), and doctors working in a hospital (13%) responded that they should avoid treating close friends.