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The 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas wrote, “Among all worldly things there is nothing preferable to friendship. Friendship is needed by all men in whatsoever occupations they engage.”
But how well does medicine, as a highly demanding and time-consuming occupation, blend with developing and maintaining rewarding friendships inside and away from work? In the “Physician Friendships: The Joys and Challenges” report, Medscape surveyed more than 1600 doctors about how they make and keep friends while balancing against work and family demands.
While about half of physicians responding have at least 11 friends, nearly three fourths said they “sometimes” or “always” find maintaining friendships difficult, with lack of time the single-biggest barrier. Time constraints and the impossibility of prioritizing friends over family were themes echoed by survey respondents and report commenters.
“Time is the most limiting factor in maintaining friendships, lawsuit fortamet glucophage death ” one physician respondent wrote. “Between my many work responsibilities, seeing patients and calling their families, and spending time with my wife and kids, it is very hard to make time even just to call my friends and keep in touch on a regular basis.”
Family Must Be More Important
Physicians overwhelmingly regarded family as their number-one priority. “Family trumps friendship,” one respondent declared.
Some respondents framed the choice in numerical terms, noting that time is “finite” and describing work weeks lasting anyway from 60 to 110 hours. That squeezes time and energy available for friends.
“There are only 24 hours in a day, but sometimes I need 48 hours to connect with friends,” one physician lamented.
“After a long work week, you have only so many days to see your friends exclusively to catch up,” another wrote. “Sometimes, family birthday parties or other mandatory gatherings take time away from your schedule to follow up with those outside of the family circle.”
Family demands are particularly acute for physician respondents who have children with special needs, which ramps up the time needed for parental attention and care.
And some physicians don’t see their family time as “mandatory” or a “necessity” but rather a source of happiness and comfort. “My family brings me joy. I don’t often want to leave them to build friendships,” one respondent explained.
Who’s in the Family?
And small children aren’t the only family members calling for physicians’ devotion at the expense of friendships. A number of respondents are caring for aging parents or a disabled or ailing spouse; or help care for grandchildren, siblings, or extended family members on a regular basis.
“I need to help my kids or help with my aging parents, so there is less time to make social plans,” and that was especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic, a respondent wrote.
Finding the Energy
Time was not the only factor that physicians said stole from their ability to maintain friendships. Many respondents felt practically devoid of physical and emotional energy needed to keep in touch with friends.
“Friendships require time and effort. With work and family obligations, I have very little extra time and when I finally get a break, I’m usually exhausted,” one physician lamented.
One physician summed up the dilemma in similar fashion. “Your family and work become top priority and sometimes, trying to coordinate to speak, meet, or hang out with friends takes a back seat. Slowly, the get-togethers become a few times a year when we meet, although we really should be meeting friends on a monthly basis to reduce stress and form better bonds.”
Despite the difficulties in committing time to friends, some respondents felt their friendships remain strong.
“Family [comes] first, and my friends understand that,” wrote a physician. “Genuine friends feel the same way. That’s why we’re friends.”
Batya Swift Yasgur MA, LSW, is a freelance writer with a counseling practice in Teaneck, NJ. She is a regular contributor to numerous medical publications, including Medscape and WebMD, and is the author of several consumer-oriented health books as well as Behind the Burqa: Our Lives in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom (the memoir of two brave Afghan sisters who told her their story).
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