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Why Working Part Time May Not Be a Good Idea


Working part time has many positive and negative implications for a doctor: financial, personal and professional. Before jumping into a decision to work part time, it is important to understand the negative effects that this work schedule can have on a physician.

Reports suggest that as many as 30% of female doctors work part time. While many women physicians and medical students lament such statistics as a throwback to outdated male and female roles, many women view this fact as the embodiment of women’s freedom to make career choices based on individual needs and preference.

Working part time has many positive and negative implications for a doctor: financial, personal and professional. Before jumping into a decision to work part time, it is important to understand the negative effects that this work schedule can have on a physician.

The Financial Realities of Working Part Time

Working part time is undoubtedly a losing financial situation for a physician. Often, part time professionals are not paid an hourly rate that is equivalent to the hourly compensation of full time peers. Many part time physicians are not eligible for conference/educational time, benefits or paid vacation. Administrative time and commuting may take disproportionate unpaid time and attention from part time doctors in comparison to full time doctors.

Financially rewarding projects such as medical legal work and consulting are often not available to part time physicians, who are not seen as authoritative enough to carry weight in controversial or high level situations. And when it comes to a salary ceiling, part time physicians bump their heads on a very low ceiling, because reimbursement for patient care cannot add up to reimbursement for leadership roles, which are often unofficially closed to part timers.

And the savings that can result from working part time do not add up. Hiring people to take care of housekeeping, childcare, and other tasks is certainly expensive.

That being said, working part time is not purely a mathematical equation. Many professionals, mothers in general, prefer to have a hands-on approach when it comes to tasks and chores that would be relatively easy and inexpensive to hire out.

The Professional Consequences of Working Part Time

The professional implications of working part time are almost always negative. While your own life might include many things that you would not have been able to do had you worked full time, you will almost always lose in the workplace as a part time doctor.

On a very basic level, you will not build up the hours of experience that your full time peers can build. You may not be around as patients clinically deteriorate or take surprising turns. Given your limited hours, you may not be able to take on patients that require minute-to-minute care. And patients themselves may steer away from you if they prefer to be cared for by a doctor who is more available.

As a part time doctor, you will be viewed as less dedicated than your full time colleagues. Some may think that you view your job as a hobby. If supervisors believe that you will not put up with any inconvenience in the work setting, they are unlikely to invite you to participate in time consuming or inconvenient opportunities that could potentially help you professionally, essentially making the decision for you.

Peers and colleagues may be envious, as your part time status undeniably announces that you do not necessarily need a full time salary. And others may tacitly accept your part time status only under the condition that you are not given opportunities that they would want to take. When you are only at work part time, you won't have the same chances to build a strong level of networking, and this fact reduces your camaraderie with colleagues.

The Lifestyle Effects of Working Part Time

You might want to work part time so that you can have more time to manage your non-work related duties. But, this might not translate into a more relaxed lifestyle, as you might find yourself taking on more responsibilities at home and in your community. It can be a challenge as you find yourself becoming a ‘jack of all trades,’ rather than a focused professional.

Part Time Doctors and the Implications for Women in Medicine

For the most part, despite our modern times, most part time physicians are women and mothers. This means that the idea of part time is still not viewed as an equal opportunity decision.

That can have negative implications for aspiring women doctors, who may already be seen by medical school admissions staff or residency directors as potential ‘drop outs’ or as simply book smart young women who will easily get pulled away from the hard work of medicine once ‘life’ kicks in.

Yet, the choice to work part time can enrich a physician’s life in a number of ways. Perhaps as medicine and society changes in the upcoming years, part time and full time will cease to be the domain of only male or only female physicians, which will be better for everyone.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice