Trends for Physician Flex Time Increases Likelihood of Shortages

American and Canadian workers have been seeking the thing researchers call “work-life balance” for years. And physicians have taken notice.

Known for working obscene hours during medical school and residency, practicing physicians of days gone by might have only ‘cut back’ to 60-or-70-hour weeks in regular practice. Today, many are seeking part-time work to accommodate their interests in old-age or leave room for a family before they age.

The American Medical Association’s online news publication put the issue well into context in March (see article here), when it reported a surge in the number of physicians working less than full-time schedules. The trend is important for hospital recruiters to recognize when they are attempting to fill holes in a medical network. Planners too, should take notice since — all else being equal — it will take increasing numbers of doctors to treat the same patients. In the short run, the trend should be a winning proposition for communities with primary care physician shortages, as older doctors can contribute to the local network as mentors and senior-level providers, giving new doctors a chance to take on more, but less complicated patient volumes. Multiple part-time physicians also tend to add up to fewer total hours, meaning existing shortage designations like Health Professional Shortage Areas and Medically Underserved Areas are more likely to stay in place.

In the long-run, if physicians continue to seek balance in their lives by reducing the number of hours they work, areas with existing physician shortages may see a further worsening in their shortage and greater need for creativity in service delivery and recruitment.

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