The workday of hospital surgeons: what they do, what makes them satisfied, and the role of core tasks and administrative tasks; a diary study

BMC Surg. 2019 Aug 14;19(1):112. doi: 10.1186/s12893-019-0570-0.


Background: Many surgeons report passion for their work, but not all tasks are likely to be satisfying. Little is known about how hospital surgeons spend their days, how they like specific tasks, and the role of core tasks (i.e. surgery-related tasks) versus tasks that may keep them from core tasks (e.g., administrative work). This study aimed at a more detailed picture of hospital surgeons' daily work - how much time they spend with different tasks, how they like them, and associations with satisfaction.

Methods: Hospital surgeons (N = 105) responded to a general survey, and 81 of these provided up to five daily questionnaires concerning daily activities and their attractiveness, as well as their job satisfaction. The data were analyzed using t-tests, analysis of variance, as well as analysis of covariance and repeated measures analysis of variance for comparing means across tasks.

Results: Among 14 tasks, surgery-related tasks took 21.2%, patient-related tasks 21.7% of the surgeons' time; 10.4% entailed meetings and communicating about patients, and 18.6% documentation and administration. The remaining time was spent with teaching, research, leadership and management, and not task-related activities (e.g. walking between rooms). Surgery was rated as most (4.25; SD = .66), administration as least attractive (2.63; SD = .78). A higher percentage of administration predicted lower perceived legitimacy; perceived legitimacy of administrative work predicted job satisfaction (r = .47). Residents were least satisfied; there were few gender differences.

Conclusions: Surgeons seem to thrive on their core tasks, most notably surgery. By contrast, administrative duties are likely perceived as keeping them from their core medical tasks. Increasing the percentage of medical tasks proper, notably surgery, and reducing administrative duties may contribute to hospital surgeons' job satisfaction.

Keywords: Administration; Core tasks; Daily activities; Hospital surgeons; Job satisfaction; Task attractiveness.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomedical Research
  • Communication
  • Documentation
  • Female
  • Hospital Administration
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • Leadership
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Surgeons / organization & administration
  • Surgeons / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching
  • Workload