Yes, medicine is a life’s work. But so is mothering. Working part-time is choosing to excel at both.
Every one of the docs in my internal medicine practice is part-time. Yes, many of us have other non-clinical work responsibilities in administration, education, or research. But no one sees patients for more than six sessions weekly.
What does that mean? A session is a morning or an afternoon in clinic, usually about five hours, seeing between eight and twelve patients. I work four sessions a week, so, I’m seeing about forty patients over roughly twenty hours. What would full-time be? Eight sessions, so about eighty patients over forty hours.
What’s fascinating is that a recent research article showed that for us, each hour in clinic equals about two more hours at the computer or on the phone. These findings support prior studies (and sound pretty accurate, based on my own experience): for every one hour physicians provide direct clinical face time to patients, nearly two additional hours is spent on documentation, followup, and other desk work.
So my measly twenty hours in clinic pans out to sixty hours of work. And this, my friends, is what is considered part-time, in Doctorland.
Still, I consider myself lucky that I am able to work ‘Doctor part-time’, because at least I have a chance to pursue my dream career, AND be a parent. I forget that most doctors do not have this opportunity, and if they do, it doesn’t come easily. A recent essay written by married physicians Warren and Marsha Holleman for Kevin, M.D. reminded me that many part-time doctors face criticism.
In the essay, these docs describe that when they tried to work full-time, not only were they miserable and exhausted, they were not able to be decent parents OR provide quality care for their patients. When the both of them reduced their office hours, their family benefited, and so did their clinical work. Though they felt guilty, and often faced the judgement of their peers, they learned that it was a great choice for them, and their patients.
What they describe makes perfect sense to me. Work/life balance is so important. Part-time is not a selfish choice; it’s the healthier choice, for all involved.
But that choice is often attacked. A 2011 New York Times Op-Ed titled “Don’t Quit This Day Job” specifically (and viciously) ripped apart women physicians who opted for part-time clinical work. The author, who is an anesthesiologist and a parent, worked full-time, and strongly felt that everyone should be just like her. The conclusion she made:
“Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work.”
I remember reading that essay and feeling sucker punched in the gut. I thought: If I could work full-time and do a good job, heck, I would. Bigger paycheck, and no crap from mean chicks like you.
But just like the Hollemans, I knew that if I was full-time, I wouldn’t be my best at work, or at home. (And I certainly wouldn’t be writing, either.) As they conclude in their pro-part-time essay:
“Never for a moment would we presume to tell others what to do. All we can say is: Make those hard choices based on your values and priorities. Not on the expectations of your boss and your colleagues, and not on the culture and customs of your friends and family. Then, when you’re living out those values and priorities, you’ll be sane and happy. And when you’re old, you’ll have no regrets.”
And here’s what I say: Yes, medicine is a life’s work. But so is mothering. And when I choose to work part-time, I am choosing to excel at both.