The rise of part-time physicians

Part-time work is on the rise for physicians across the country, Medscape reported May 9.

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.

Ten years ago, most part-time physicians were men nearing retirement or women who were early or in the middle of their careers, but those demographics are changing. More hospitals are offering part-time or per diem work and more specialists are stepping into part-time roles, Amy Knoup, a senior recruitment adviser with Provider Solutions & Development, told Medscape.

In 2002, 15 percent of pediatricians reported part-time hours, but in 2021 a survey found 30 percent of graduating pediatricians were seeking part-time work. Now, there are more part-timers in primary care, behavioral health and outpatient specialties such as endocrinology, and with inpatient roles such as radiologists and critical care and ER physicians, Ms. Knoup said.

Ms. Knoup also noted more early-career physicians are seeking fewer hours due to burnout and the goal of maintaining work-life balance.

Some worry the increase in part-time roles is contributing to the physician shortage. 

"If all the physicians in a community went from working 100 percent full-time clinical to 50 percent full-time clinical, then the people in that community would have half the access to care that they had," Christine Sinsky, MD, the American Medical Association's vice president of professional satisfaction and a nationally regarded researcher on physician burnout, told Medscape. "There's less capacity in the system to care for patients."

However, some argue that part-time physicians ease the shortage by keeping physicians in the field longer.

"In order to continue working for a long time rather than quitting when the demands exceed human capacity, working part-time is a great compromise to offer a life of more sustainable well-being and longevity as a physician, and still live a wholehearted life," Tracey O'Connell, MD, a radiologist, told the news outlet.

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