Future medical leaders have shorter futures, study says

December 09, 2003

"Being elected medical school class president is a distinctive event that signifies ambition, popularity and success," reports Dr. Donald Redelmeier, professor of medicine at U of T, director of clinical epidemiology at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre and lead author of a recent paper in Social Science and Medicine. But a medical school presidency may also be associated with harmful status-seeking behaviour - tendencies that impair family relationships and limit exercise time, among others.

Redelmeier and co-author Dr. Jeffrey Kwong, a former U of T medical class president who is now a community medicine resident at the university, compared the long-term survival of 1,521 doctors (including all class presidents) who graduated from U of T over the course of the last century. They found overall life expectancy was 2.4 years less for presidents than their classmates; the average lifespan after graduation of all surveyed was 50 years. They also found the decrease in life expectancy was not easily explained by age, sex, race, marks, subsequent specialization or random chance.

Redelmeier and Kwong suggest that the type of physician who makes sacrifices for professional prestige may also fail to look after their own health. "One major tension for medical professionals is between serving individual patients and contributing broadly to society," states the paper. "As a consequence, one person might become overworked and spread too thin trying to fulfill worthwhile intentions."

Their research was supported by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, the Canada Research Chairs program and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
CONTACT: Dr. Donald Redelmeier, Department of Medicine, 416-480-6999, dar@ices.on.ca or Janet Wong, U of T public affairs, 416-978-5949, jf.wong@utoronto.ca.

University of Toronto

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