Short Reports

Bangers and cash: multicentre survey of what doctors are drivingCommentary: Report of statistical referee

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7225.1616 (Published 18 December 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:1616

Bangers and cash: multicentre survey of what doctors are driving

  1. Fiona J Cooke, PHLS specialist registrar in medical microbiologya,
  2. Duncan B Richards, clinical lecturer in clinical pharmacologyb,
  3. Catherine F Kellett, clinical lecturer in orthopaedic surgeryc,
  4. Rhian E Morse, consultant physician (rhian.morse{at}btinternet.com)d
  1. a St George's Hospital, London SW17 0QT
  2. b Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford OX2 6HE
  3. c Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford OX3 7LD
  4. d Department of Integrated Medicine, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff CF4 4XW
  5. Department of Medical Statistics, South Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, Withington Hospital, Manchester M20 2LR
  1. Correspondence to: R E Morse

    Unlike general practitioners, most hospital doctors do not use their car for work. Choice may therefore reflect individual character and aspirations. Although influenced by income and lifestyle, the ultimate decision may be determined by other less practical factors At all price levels, some cars are more charismatic than others; the cost of this charisma is usually practicality. We have tested whether the 1960s stereotype of the dashing surgeon in a convertible sports car still exists. An extensive literature search drew a blank.

    Methods, analysis, and results

    An anonymous questionnaire was distributed to 400 hospital doctors in three teaching hospitals in England and Wales in summer 1999. Respondents indicated their sex, grade, and specialty, and details of their main car: engine size, age (if more than 11 years, vintage or old banger), number of doors, and whether turbo charged, fuel injected, or soft topped. Anonymity ensured that specific cars could not be identified in the hospital car park. Make and model were not analysed owing to the diversity of cars now available. Although it was not asked about, many volunteered information about bicycles, rollerblades, etc.

    The “charisma score” of a car represents a useful comparative tool, independent of absolute cost, make and model. Although age and engine size are important, turbocharging, two doors, and a soft top are particularly potent. The “charisma score” was calculated by multiplying engine size (litres) by age factor and the weighting factors. Age was graded as 0-2 years (4 points), 3-5 years (3 points), 6-10 years (2 points), >11 years (1 point) except vintage (10 points). Weighting factors were 5 for a soft top, 3 for turbo charged, 3 for two doors, 2 for fuel injection. Hatchback doors were not counted, and a sunroof does not equate to a soft top.

    Confounding factors included diesel cars (large engine size, often turbocharged) and small cars with only two doors. However, these cars did not score highly in other areas.

    A total of 221 questionnaires, representing all grades, were analysable (preregistration house officers, 25; senior house officers, 46; specialist registrar year 1-3, 28; specialist registrar year 4+, 36; consultants year 1-5, 30; consultants year 6+, 56; response rate 55%). Most specialties were represented: medicine, 100; surgery, 89; psychiatry, 8; laboratory based, 13; other, 11. Only 54 (24%) replies were from women—this was disappointing, as it is unrepresentative; however, a greater proportion of women volunteered the car colour.

    The mean charisma score for each grade (figure) and specialty (table) was calculated. Senior house officers scored highest (mean 57.7 points) and preregistration house officers lowest (16.1). The “top 20” (>96 points) were driven by 3 women and 17 men, comprising 7 senior house officers, 6 registrars, and 7 consultants (no preregistration house officers). All specialties were fairly represented: 8 surgeons, 8 physicians, 4 others.

    Figure1

    Mean car charisma score according to grade of doctor

    Mean charisma score by specialty

    View this table:

    The “bottom 20” (<2.6 points) were also driven by 3 women and 17 men. There were three preregistration house officers, three senior house officers, seven registrars, and seven consultants. There were proportionally more physicians than expected (14 physicians, 2 surgeons, 4 others).

    Comment

    Preregistration house officers drive the least charismatic cars and senior house officers the most charismatic. Newly qualified doctors may be paying off student debts. On becoming a senior house officer, a doctor has increased disposable income—now is the time to buy the dream car. With progress up the ranks, domestic pressures and responsibilities kick in, and financial constraints return. It seems that however much you earn, you are never as free as when you are a senior house officer Physicians drive the least charismatic cars, perhaps through lower peer pressure. There were proportionally fewer women in the top 20 and in the bottom 20, suggesting that although women do not buy particularly charismatic cars they will not tolerate an old heap either.

    This survey confirms that stereotypes are alive and flourishing as we approach the new millennium. The question is, does car dictate specialty, or does specialty dictate car? We will leave this for our psychiatric colleagues; whether you pick a Porsche driver or a Skoda driver is up to you.

    Figure2

    What is the charisma score of your car, and what does it mean?

    (Credit: MALCOLM WILLETT)

    Acknowledgments

    Dr F H Adenwalla (SpR geriatric medicine, Cardiff) kindly helped with the distribution of questionnaires.

    Contributors: FJC, DBR, and REM conceived the idea, and all authors were involved in distributing the questionnaire, analysing the data, and writing the paper. REM is the guarantor.

    Footnotes

    • Competing interests REM drives an old grey Mazda 1.6 Exec, CFK drives a sporty little number, DBR drives his mother's F-reg Renault, and FJC has a zone 3 underground pass.

    • Funding None.

    Commentary: Report of statistical referee

    1. Julie Morris, head of medical statistics (julie_m{at}fs1.with.man.ac.uk)
    1. a St George's Hospital, London SW17 0QT
    2. b Department of Clinical Pharmacology, Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford OX2 6HE
    3. c Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, Oxford OX3 7LD
    4. d Department of Integrated Medicine, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff CF4 4XW
    5. Department of Medical Statistics, South Manchester University Hospitals NHS Trust, Withington Hospital, Manchester M20 2LR

      This paper describes a simple survey of car owners. The authors have steered clear of detailed descriptions of the methodology (see, in particular, points 1-3 below) and this should be repaired. However, the main bodywork of the paper is in reasonable condition.

      1. Was the questionnaire distributed to all doctors in the three hospitals? That is, was it an exhaustive sample?

      2. How responsive were the sampled doctors? What proportion of doctors replied?

      3. Using a breakdown of respondents into different specialties and grades results in small numbers in some classes. How high powered is the study to detect differences between these subgroups? It would be useful to present 95% confidence intervals for some of the more important results.

      4. How carefully was the definition of the “charisma score” engineered? It would have made more sense to replace the component “two door” by “two seater.” Also, “soft top” excludes sports cars with a hard top that, at the press of a button, disappears into the boot (note: statisticians are not always unworldly). Or are these cars not thought to be charismatic? Furthermore, what justification is there for the automatic weighting factors?

      5. The table: some measure of variation should be included here—the bottom and top of the range, for example.

      6. The text may need a respray as there are some typing errors. [The dents in the bodywork have been smoothed and polished by the editorial panelbeaters.]

      7. Is there a relationship between specialty and grade? If so, it is then difficult to get much mileage from the interpretation of differences among the various specialties and grades.

      Footnotes

      • Competing interests Owner of an uncharismatic German hatchback (red).

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