Work-hour numbers linked to career satisfaction
■ With few exceptions, doctors who work the most hours are less satisfied than those who work the least.
By Carolyne Krupa — Posted July 29, 2011
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In the quest to balance quality of life and career, more young physicians are factoring the number of hours they will have to work into decisions about what specialty to pursue.
"Lifestyle seems to be more important these days, and work hours are a big factor in lifestyle," said J. Paul Leigh, PhD, lead author of a study on physician work hours in the July 11 Archives of Internal Medicine.
Physicians in specialties who work the least hours -- such as pediatricians, dermatologists, and child and adolescent psychiatrists -- tend to have the highest rates of job satisfaction. Those who work the most hours have the lowest job satisfaction, the study said (link).
Some exceptions are neonatologists and perinatologists, who work many hours but maintain strong career satisfaction.
Researchers analyzed 2004-05 data on 6,381 physicians in 41 specialties from the Community Tracking Survey. They found that the average doctor works 2,524 hours annually, or 48.5 hours per week.
Overall, physicians who care for acutely ill or intensive care patients work longer hours, while those who care for more stable, chronically ill patients work fewer hours. Emergency doctors and hospitalists who work fixed shifts are the exception.
Vascular surgeons and critical care internal medicine specialists worked the most hours compared with family medicine. Pediatric emergency medicine doctors, occupational medicine specialists and dermatologists worked the fewest hours, the study said.
Rankings on physician work hours will help medical students, residency directors, hospital administrators, policymakers and others make informed decisions, said Leigh, a professor at the University of California, Davis School of Medicine Center for Healthcare Policy and Research.
The health system reform law is placing new focus on the need for more primary care doctors, but low wages for hours worked compared with other doctors "may continue to exacerbate the shortages of primary care physicians," he said.