Golf and Your Doctor

Golf is often associated with doctors. The doctor’s day off to play golf is a well-worn cliché about the profession. How much does this cliché reflect reality?

Someone has actually taken the time and expense to study this question! Although I was intrigued with reading the study, it may be the most useless expenditure of time on research I’ve ever read.

I confess that I’m a physician who loves to play golf. I even chose to move from my home state of Pennsylvania to Florida in part because it would afford me the opportunity to play golf year round. But I never thought I’d read a research study devoted to analyzing the golf habits and talents of physicians.

The study was recently published in The BMJ under the title: Golf Habits Among Physicians and Surgeons: Observational Cohort Study. The stated objectives of the study were: To examine golfing patterns among physicians, the proportion who regularly play golf, differences in golf practices across specialties, the specialties with the best golfers, and differences in golf practices among male and female physicians.

The study comprised 41,692 physicians who actively logged golf scores in the U.S.G.A. amateur golfer database. This is 4.1% of the total of 1,029,088 physicians in the U.S. Men comprised 89.5% of physician golfers and among all male physicians, 5.5% play golf. Only 1.3% of female physicians play golf.

The highest proportion of physician golfers were in orthopedic surgery (8.8%), urology (8.1%) and plastic surgery (7.5%). The lowest proportion of physician golfers were in internal medicine and infectious disease (<3.0%).

The best golfers were in thoracic surgery, vascular surgery, and orthopedic surgery. These physicians scored about 15% better than specialists in endocrinology, dermatology and oncology.

How often does your doctor actually play golf?

These results were surprising. The idea that most physicians have a regular day set aside to play golf was mostly shattered by this study. Male golfers played an average of 14.8 games in the first six months of 2018 and female golfers played an average of 12.8 games. This works out to about one game of golf every 12.5 days or about once every two weeks.

How do physicians compare as golfers to non-physician golfers?

Overall, physicians were at best average golfers. The mean handicap among physicians was 15.0, which is slightly worse than the performance of non-physician golfers according to the U.S.G.A.

What have we learned through this study that impacts patient care?

Nothing. The study researchers state, “The association between golfing and patient outcomes, costs of care, and physician well-being are unknown.” Nevertheless, they are undaunted in their pursuit of future related research. They conclude:

“The findings of this study suggest several areas where research is needed and where federal research support—perhaps through a dedicated agency of the National Institutes of Health—might be warranted. Is patient mortality associated with the amount of time a patient’s physician plays golf (either negatively, because physicians release stress on the golf course, or positively owing to decreased availability and time spent away from developing clinical skill)? Do costs of care increase and patient outcomes worsen in the days after a physician has had a bad round of golf?

I’m sure you’ll be anxious to hear the results of such future research, especially if it is funded with your federal tax dollars. 🙂


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