Part-time surgeons would help ease shortage

Such schedules may attract older men who are considering retirement and young women taking time off to raise a family, a study says.

By Damon Adams — Posted Sept. 28, 2011

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Employing more part-timers may help reduce the nation's surgeon shortage by 2030, says a study in the September issue of the Journal of American College of Surgeons.

Allowing surgeons to work part time would encourage them to remain in practice longer and help them achieve a better work-life balance, the study said.

"Let's look at what we can do to keep people we are losing," said lead study author Bhagwan Satiani, MD, a vascular surgeon and professor of surgery at The Ohio State University Medical Center. He works part time as a surgeon. "This opens the door for people to stay in practice. ... People who have a balanced lifestyle are going to have a lower burnout rate."

Dr. Satiani and his colleagues used a 2005 work force baseline of 99,000 surgeons in various specialties and estimated that 3,635 board certificates are granted each year. They said the average surgeon practices 30 years, with 3,300 retiring each year.

They analyzed what would happen if one quarter, half or three-quarters of potential retiring surgeons worked part time for an additional 10 years. Depending on the scenario, that would mean between 4,125 and 12,375 more part-time surgeons by 2030 (link).

Research shows that more physicians are working part time. A physician retention study issued in April by Cejka Search and the American Medical Group Assn. found that 13% of male doctors and 36% of female physicians practiced part time in 2010. That's compared with 7% and 29%, respectively, in 2005.

Some surgical specialties are seeing fewer surgeons. For example, from 1981 to 2005, the number of general surgeons per 100,000 people fell 26%, said a study in the April 2008 Archives of Surgery (link).

Dr. Satiani and his colleagues said employment models should address flexible work schedules and other changes to interest surgeons in part-time work. Such part-time schedules may be especially attractive to older men considering retirement and young female surgeons taking time off to raise a family.

"I just hope department chairs and [medical school] deans say, 'Let's look at this and offer different models of employment,' " Dr. Satiani said.

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