This site is intended for health professionals only

How to spot life's winners

Dr Raj Persaud
Consultant Psychiatrist at
The Maudsley Hospital, London

Award ceremonies proliferate both on TV and in the world of work, yet there are very few for nurses. Research shows that prizes such as the Hollywood Academy Awards have dramatic effects on the lives of winners, so  the lack of similar signifiers of success, and its implications for nurse morale, is thrown into stark relief.
The startling result is that winning an Oscar leads to an increase in average life expectancy of almost four years compared with those who are merely nominated, and almost six years over those who appear in the same film but don't get nominated.(1) This is equivalent to rendering the winner immune from cancer!
Winning an Academy Award more than once was even better for your health - multiple winners lived almost three years longer on average than those who had just the one Oscar on the mantelpiece.
The dramatically improved health and longer lifespan that seems to accrue to you after winning an Oscar is the equivalent of a 28% reduction in death rates. Or if translated to the population at large (in other words, if we all won an Oscar), it would be the equivalent of curing all cancers in all people for all time.
The theory that explains this amazing effect focuses on the possible health significance of differences in social status and prestige. A recent famous British study on civil servants found that those in lower-status positions died at three times the rate as those in higher-status jobs, despite the fact that the lower-status jobs were hardly financially deprived, so possible income effects such as malnutrition could be ruled out.
Instead, the crucial factor seemed to be that those in higher-status positions have more control over their work compared with lower-status colleagues, and it now seems that a sense of control over your life has huge stress and health implications. Academy Award winners gain significantly in prestige over those merely ­nominated and are likely to be more able to choose what films they want and be more in control of their careers.
Another theory is that self-esteem is the crucial factor, as gaining an award is an undoubted massive boost to the ego. That the secret ingredient to a longer life might be self-esteem is supported by other research confirming that heart disease and cancer are more likely in those suffering from depression.
Further support for this theory comes from a follow-up study on screenwriters who gain an Academy Award.(2) Screenwriters are an interesting contrast to performers, as most labour in anonymity compared with actors and actresses.
The amazing finding was that winning an Academy Award if you are a screenwriter is actually very bad for your health - winners live on average almost four years less than nominees. This is equivalent to an almost 40% increase in death rates by dint of being handed the poisoned chalice of an Oscar if you are a writer!
The ensuing correspondence in the BMJ from doctors suggested that perhaps the writer's initial exultation at winning an Oscar soon evaporates as it becomes obvious that the fascination and acclaim are concentrated on the leading actors and directors. Oscar ceremonies are primarily about acting honours. Therefore the Academy Awards ceremony could actually intensify scriptwriters' convictions that they are not properly recognised for their contribution to a film. This situation could even further corrode a writer's sense of self-esteem, thereby attacking their psychological and physical health.
If status and self-esteem are the crucial variables then this raises some sobering questions about how the NHS attempts to bolster nurse status and self-esteem in what remains a practically award- or recognition-free zone.

References

  1. Redelmeier D, Singh S. Survival in Academy Award-winning actors and actresses. Ann Intern Med 2001;134:955-62.
  2. Redelmeier D, Singh S. Longevity of screenwriters who win an academy award: longitudinal study. BMJ 2001;323:1491-6.