'People are looking for more': What part-time work looks like at 4 hospitals

Part-time work in healthcare has accelerated since the pandemic and systems are finding new ways to manage the shifting workforce.

Part-time physicians have fluctuated throughout the last two decades. In 2005, only 13 percent of physicians were working 20 to 29 hours per week, compared with 2011, when part-time physicians made up 21 percent of the physician workforce. Now, systems are seeing more physicians reducing their work to part-time hours, but often by small amounts. Full-time physicians are classified as 1.0 FTE, and many are reducing their status to 0.8 or 0.9.

"That's not uncommon," Melissa Love, vice president of professional staff services at New Orleans-based Ochsner Health, told Becker's. "We see requests where people are looking for a little extra time in their life, but they're not trying to dial back to a dramatic part-time change. They might adjust their FTE by point one to be able to allocate more time in their day for things outside of work."

Kim Moore, MD, chief medical officer at Tacoma, Wash.-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health, said 25 percent of physicians in its workforce across specialties hold a part-time schedule.

At UNC Health Rex in Raleigh, N.C., 19 of its 59 hospitalists are part time. Of them, five were hired part time and 14 reduced their clinical hours over the years, Meera Udayakumar, MD, chief medical officer of the system, told Becker's. Of those 19 part-time physicians, 14 are women.

However, female physicians are not the most common demographic reducing hours. Leaders at four systems told Becker's that most physicians who request part-time status are either nearing retirement or looking to improve their work-life balance.

"I think people have gotten a taste of more balance in their life and they're like, 'Why am I sacrificing all of this to an institution?'" Doug Bruce, MD, chief clinical integration officer at Cleveland-based MetroHealth, told Becker's.

Dr. Moore added that "part-time work is particularly advantageous for providers who are looking for more work-life balance, who need flexibility to manage family situations such as caring for a sick family member or who may be looking to reduce their workload in preparation for retirement."

There are also a number of physicians who reduce clinical hours to take on administrative positions, Dr. Udayakumar said.

While some leaders credit part-time work with keeping physicians in the fields, they grapple with how to keep morale up while still providing patient care. The benefits of part-time work include reduced burnout and physicians willing to stay in their roles for longer, but the reduced hours can leave systems scrambling to meet patient demands.

However, leaders do not expect part-time physicians to disappear.

"We might have this old-fashioned idea of physicians spending all their time at work and not having time for anything else — family or hobbies — until they retire. That model is not sustainable," Dr. Udayakumar said. "We need to be flexible and make healthcare a career that people want to go into and want to stay in for as long as possible." 

"I think people are looking for more, certainly in the physician world," Robert Hart, MD, chief physician executive at Ochsner Health, told Becker's. "I think people are looking for more work-life balance than what traditionally medicine has offered and technology is going to make that better. We already see lots of opportunities to create work-life balance with telemedicine and AI."

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