(November 2016) In 2012, family physician Ken Murray, MD, published a moving essay describing a physician friend’s decision to forgo chemotherapy for his cancer and enroll immediately into hospice care. Murray said his friend’s story showed that doctors generally choose such paths in the face of their own mortality.
As physicians, we found his essay powerful and compelling. As researchers, however, we realized this was a testable hypothesis and we started thinking about how to answer the question: Do doctors die differently than non-doctors?
In the months that followed Murray’s essay, the narrative that doctors “die differently” seemed to solidify as reputable news outlets including National Public Radio, Radiolab, and The New York Times proclaimed it as truth. Such reports fueled our passion to find a way to determine if it was actually true.
The most difficult part of our study was finding a large dataset linking occupation to health care utilization. We spent nearly two years exploring potential datasets from Kaiser, Group Health, and the Health and Retirement Study. All included occupation, but each one had too few physicians to perform the type of analysis we needed.