True fact: I once drank a vaseful of coffee.
In my defense, the vase was rather small as vases go, and could (if one squinted) have been mistaken for an especially large novelty mug. And it was sitting in the cupboard alongside many other mugs. However, I was assured by several people in my office’s break room that it was a vase, and had come with a little arrangement of flowers the practice had received.
I didn’t care. I filled it up with coffee and took it to my desk anyway.
I drink a lot of coffee, is my point.
According to a new study in the journal BMJ, I am not alone among doctors in this regard. By examining the purchasing patterns at a hospital canteen in Switzerland, the authors sought to answer the query, “Which medical specialty consumes the most coffee?” a serious question that has been keeping me up at night. (I am sure my own personal consumption is unrelated to that problem.)
Those of you planning on going in for joint replacement surgery in the near future, you may want to pay close attention to the person you’ve consulted to perform the procedure. Do his hands vibrate? Does she emit a faint buzzing noise? Orthopedic surgeons, it turns out, drink more coffee per person annually than the other specialists included in the study. The authors suggest that this may be due to the “work hard/play hard” behavior stereotypical of orthopedists within the medical community, or alternatively that they have too much free time on their hands, which they spend faffing about in hospital coffee shops.
It is possible this study was undertaken with something other than perfect seriousness.
Behind orthopedic surgeons come radiologists, emerging blinking from the darkened rooms in which they spend shift after shift peering at x-rays and CT scans, to perk back up with a cup of joe. Rounding out the top five coffee-swilling specialties were general surgeons, neurosurgeons, and neurologists.
I was horrified to see pediatrics lumped ignominiously at the bottom of the chart in the category “other,” behind even anesthesiologists (who spend their careers putting people to sleep, for heaven’s sake). Fellow pediatricians, I see no alternative but to significantly amp up our coffee consumption so as to be more worthy of notice. We can’t let the internists win!
Of the nearly 71,000 cups of coffee that doctors at the hospital tossed back during the course of a year, types of beverage were broken out into cappuccino, café crème, espresso, and “fancy coffee,” which is what BMJ would call most of the flavored or iced concoctions Starbucks sells. I don’t what it says about Swiss hospital canteens, but nowhere to be found was the plain black elixir I prefer to drink. (I’ll add dairy products to my coffee when they find a way to caffeinate them.) If I’m getting beaten by a bunch of orthopedists sipping so-called fancy coffees, my sense of inferiority is greatly improved.
The study also examined how position within the medical hierarchy affected coffee consumption and patterns. More senior doctors drank more coffee than junior ones, which the authors speculate was to stave off the effects of age and infirmity. (I would find that funnier if I hadn’t turned 40 this past summer.) They are also more likely to buy it for others, which is hardly surprising. When I was a resident, my favorite variety of coffee was “free.”
As the article notes, whether or not coffee is good for you is a subject of some debate. While there are many studies that have shown benefits (including lower likelihood of being dead from pretty much all causes), it’s not a settled question. (Count me on #teamgoodforyou.) But if you’re caffeinated at your next medical checkup, this new study should provide some reassurance. Chances are good your doctor is, too.