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Would Working Part-time Make You a Better Doctor?

Chances are you became a doctor because you felt a calling.

That’s admirable, of course. The world needs more helpers.

And perhaps you still feel that calling, but do you feel it anywhere from 60 to 80 hours a week? Are you practicing your calling a lot? So much so that perhaps the quality of medicine you practice suffers?

And maybe more importantly, if these questions resonate with you, what can you do about it?

Passive Income MD explores this theme in this guest post.

We all know that being a doctor is a profession that demands a level of commitment unmatched in many other careers. With the long hours and the pervasive idea that doctors are their job, it’s no wonder part-time schedules are becoming more common and more accepted in medicine.

Much of the reason that I turned to passive income was to allow me to eventually cut back my hours so I could spend more time with my family and spend more time doing things outside of medicine that matter to me.

Turning medicine into a hobby was a real goal. What’s the difference between a hobby and a job? A hobby is often something you do because you’re passionate about it and it brings enjoyment into your life. A job is something you do because you want to receive an income by trading time and effort.


Part-Time for Doctors Isn’t Necessarily Part-Time for the Rest of the World


For the average physician, the standard 40-hour workweek is anything but standard. A doctor’s schedule can be brutal. The AMA Insurance’s 2014 survey entitled Work/Life Profiles of Today’s Physician showed that 20% of physicians aged 40-69 work 61-80 hours per week. Two-thirds of doctors in that age group reported working 40-60 hours a week.

This tells us that a large portion of doctors are working, at the very least, what’s considered to be a 1.5 to two times a full workweek in nearly every other profession.

That means that, for doctors, going part-time doesn’t mean they’ll only work 20 hours per week. A lot of the time, it simply means cutting back to a “normal” workweek. It might just mean not pushing beyond the bounds of what the average person is willing to tolerate.


Happier Doctors are Better Doctors

When people are happy, they’re able to be kinder and more empathetic in their professional lives as well as their personal lives.

This doesn’t only apply to doctors. Workers, in general, are more productive and better at their jobs when they’re happy and fulfilled. A 2019 Oxford study showed that happy workers are up to 13% more productive than their less contented counterparts.

But work is about more than sheer productivity. Negativity is contagious. It’s a fact. When you’re unhappy, it’s harder to put on a good face and engage in active listening and open communication, both of which are critical for positive doctor/patient relationships.

When you don’t feel your best, whether physically or mentally, it’s hard to do your absolute best at work every day.

Since our patients and co-workers count on us to bring our A-game day in and day out, our happiness matters to more than ourselves and the people who care about us. It matters to everyone we come into contact with in our professional lives as well.

But how do we find happiness? Does part-time equal happiness?


Work/Life Balance is Important

The younger generations today are putting more and more emphasis on work/life balance as a priority. People don’t want to just go to work, pay the bills, and try to save enough money so they don’t have to go to work when they get to retirement age.

They want to live life now. YOLO, am I right? Seriously, though, countless studies show that the younger generations attribute more value to work/life balance than other factors when considering employment.

I’ve heard many of my “more experienced” colleagues mention, “People today just don’t want to work hard.” I don’t believe it’s a matter of not wanting to work hard or having the capacity to work hard. To get to this point, we all know it took an extraordinary amount of time and effort.

It’s just that the field of medicine has changed. We’ve gone from doctors who practice with a fair amount of autonomy and with the patient’s best interest at heart to more simply like providers in a big machine, following protocols, almost more like technicians.

In medicine, especially in the early years with the demands of residency and internships, balance can be tough to find. One of the easiest ways to find a little balance when you work in a position that traditionally requires long hours is to turn some of those work hours back into life hours, and that’s where a part-time schedule comes in.

Physician Burnout is Real

The pandemic has brought to light a lot of things about society as a whole, and burnout in healthcare workers is one of them, though it’s nothing new. It’s an officially diagnosable condition these days, and research shows that physicians are 15 times more likely than other professionals to face burnout. And it’s no wonder. It’s a high-stress job.

Burnout affects your work life, your family life, and everything in between, and for many physicians, a part-time schedule is the key to recovering from burnout or avoiding it in the first place.


Would Working Less Make You Happier?


If it would, you might consider looking for a way to make working less a reality. Remember that part-time in medicine doesn’t necessarily mean the 20-hour workweek that constitutes a part-time schedule for the rest of the workforce. It might mean cutting back to normal 8-hour workdays, paperwork included. It might mean cutting back on your on-call time.

Of course, there are cons to going part-time: less money, the stigmas associated with anything less than a full workload, less time to practice and gain proficiency. All of these things are the downsides that must be carefully considered, as well.

So, do part-time doctors make better doctors? There’s really no definitive answer to that question, and the answer varies from one doctor to the next.

I think that there are some important questions to consider:

  • Are you struggling with your current work/life balance?
  • Would cutting back on your hours take some of the weight off your shoulders and allow you to stress a little less?
  • Would you be happier with more time off?
  • Do you think going part-time would make you a better doctor?
  • Can you afford it?



Give Yourself the Choice

Many of us would love to have the choice but feel tied to our jobs financially. It’s what supports our lifestyles and provides security for our families.

But if finances weren’t part of the equation, how would you optimally spend your time?

If it’s anything different than what you’re doing now, find ways to create multiple streams of income outside of medicine so you can choose what your days look like. For some that might be investing in real estate or for others, it might be something entrepreneurial.

Whatever it is, find a way to get started so you can ultimately decide whether going part-time is better for you, your family, and your patients.



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3 thoughts on “Would Working Part-time Make You a Better Doctor?”

  1. I want to add a perspective about going part-time once you have a few years of clinical experience under your belt. I am 4 years out of residency in obgyn. My first job was private practice 1:6 call with backup call and I also picked up extra shifts for money and experience since I didn’t do a fellowship. I am seeing a trend towards new grads in my specialty only wanting to join a big group, sometimes part-time, with call less frequent than 1:7. I have mixed feelings about this since in a surgical specialty you need high volume and more experience initially out of training. There’s so much learning until you get your board certification and when you are in responsible medically and legally. With Covid too trainees are probably less surgically trained and maybe more burnt out, which is a worrisome combo.

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  3. I am not a doctor. I know a doctor who practices in a very large physician group -the dominant medical group in this area that has the vast majority of patients In the area for insurance reasons- and this doctor’s management does not want any doctors to be part time. And in this very large employer you must have your manager’s approval to transfer to a different location. So part time for doctors is great in theory but isn’t always an option.

    • Where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s a shame to see physicians allow administrators to have all the power.


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