Context: Whether physicians have a professional responsibility to address health-related issues beyond providing care to individual patients has been vigorously debated. Yet little is known about practicing physicians' attitudes about or the extent to which they participate in public roles, which we defined as community participation, political involvement, and collective advocacy.
Objectives: To determine the importance physicians assign to public roles, their participation in related activities, and sociodemographic and practice factors related to physicians' rated levels of importance and activity.
Design, setting, and participants: Mail survey conducted between November 2003 and June 2004 of 1662 US physicians engaged in direct patient care selected from primary care specialties (family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics) and 3 non-primary care specialties (anesthesiology, general surgery, cardiology).
Main outcome measures: Rated importance of community participation, political involvement, collective advocacy, and relevant self-reported activities encompassing the previous 3 years; rated importance of physician action on different issues.
Results: Community participation, political involvement, and collective advocacy were rated as important by more than 90% of respondents, and a majority rated community participation and collective advocacy as very important. Nutrition, immunization, substance abuse, and road safety issues were rated as very important by more physicians than were access-to-care issues, unemployment, or illiteracy. Two thirds of respondents had participated in at least 1 of the 3 types of activities in the previous 3 years. Factors independently related to high overall rating of importance (civic-mindedness) included age, female sex, underrepresented race/ethnicity, and graduation from a non-US or non-Canadian medical school. Civic mindedness, medical specialty, practice type, underrepresented race/ethnicity, preceptors of physicians in training, rural practice, and graduation from a non-US or non-Canadian medical school were independently related to civic activity.
Conclusions: Public roles are definable entities that have widespread support among physicians. Civic-mindedness is associated primarily with sociodemographic factors, but civic action is associated with specialty and practice-based factors.