Part-time work appeals to pediatricians

Doctors nearing or past retirement age are finding part-time employment offers a way to stay on the job longer, new studies find.

By — Posted Jan. 11, 2010

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Part-time work is continuing to gain favor among physicians, with new studies showing that the trend is spreading to pediatricians. At the same time, more part-time positions are becoming available for ob-gyns in the academic setting.

Two surveys published online Dec. 14, 2009, in Pediatrics show that more pediatricians, including those nearing retirement age, are considering part-time work. And a study in the January Obstetrics & Gynecology found that growth in ob-gyn departments at U.S. medical schools in recent years has been accompanied by an increase in part-time faculty positions.

"It seems as though there is a growing acceptance of reduced hours of work within the [pediatrics] field," said William Cull, PhD, director of the Division of Health Services Research at the American Academy of Pediatrics and an author of the Pediatrics studies.

Cull found that the number of pediatricians of all ages who reported working part time increased from 15% in 2000 to 23% in 2006. The figures were drawn from surveys of national random samples of about 1,600 AAP members.

Part-time options have become attractive in recent years as physicians seek to balance work and family. The increase in the number of women in the work force also has spurred growth in part-time slots.

Pediatricians in part-time jobs reported greater levels of satisfaction than full-time employees, researchers said. Part-timers were more satisfied with hours worked per week, their time for administrative work, relationships with colleagues and work environment. They also were more likely to be satisfied with the additional time spent with their children and friends and for community activities and spiritual needs than were full-time colleagues.

Part-time pediatricians spent about 25 hours a week in direct patient care compared with about 39 hours a week for full-time pediatricians.

A second study in Pediatrics focused on part-time work among pediatricians age 50 and older, and found that abbreviated hours become more common as physicians age. Among pediatricians 65 to 69, 27% worked part time. The number of part-timers increased to 35% between age 70 and 74.

Data collected from surveyed physicians indicated that career satisfaction was the most important factor -- cited by 77% -- influencing them to consider working beyond traditional retirement age. Financial needs or obligations were cited by 62%.

More part-time opportunities for ob-gyns

In the ob-gyn faculty study, researchers queried chairs of the departments of obstetrics and gynecology at 125 allopathic medical schools in the U.S. Two-thirds predicted that the number of faculty positions -- a mean number of 29 positions in 2008 -- would grow during the next five years, especially for part-time faculty and entry-level assistant professors who are generalists or maternal-fetal medicine specialists.

Researchers also found that 84% of ob-gyn departments had part-time faculty positions.

"Faculty were happier and more satisfied with part-time work," said lead author William Rayburn, MD, professor and chair of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Dept. at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. Part-time work is seen as providing the opportunity for greater balance between work and family, he said.

"Institutions are now developing policies to optimize recruitment and promotion of part-time faculty, because the future of academic medicine is dependent more on maintaining part-time faculty members," the researchers wrote.

Anthony Knettel, a spokesman for the Assn. of Academic Health Centers, a national nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., was not surprised by the findings. The rise in the number of women physicians already had increased the demand for more flexible work schedules, he said.

"Now I think we are seeing a trend of older physicians shifting to part-time work to help meet the needs of communities who are desperate for physicians," he said.

Pediatrics is a particularly problematic area, he noted. "An [AAHC] staff member returned from Tulsa, Okla., last week and reported that the children's hospital there is having trouble recruiting specialists. It doesn't have to be a small, rural community that is having difficulty attracting a specialist in pediatrics; medium-sized cities are also having a problem."

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More willing to work less

A study of pediatricians age 50 and older examined their work force patterns. Among the findings:

TotalMenWomenSubspecialistPrimary care
Hours for full-time pediatricians, mean5555565953
Hours for part-time pediatricians, mean2926343129
Currently part time23%18%32%19%24%
Full-time pediatricians willing to work part time24%21%30%23%25%
Time spent on patient care76%76%77%63%82%
Satisfied with medicine as their career90%90%90%90%91%

Source: "Patterns of Work and Retirement Among Pediatricians Age less than or equal to Years," Pediatrics, Dec. 14, 2009 (link)

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Reasons to keep practicing

Pediatricians 50 and older said several factors would influence their decision to remain active in medicine as they near retirement age.

Career satisfaction77%77%78%
Financial needs or obligations62%62%62%
Good income52%53%50%
Needs of patients44%44%45%
Need for health insurance32%32%33%
Difficulty recruiting a replacement9%8%11%

Source: "Patterns of Work and Retirement Among Pediatricians Age less than or equal to 50 Years," Pediatrics, Dec. 14, 2009 (link)

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Plans for the future

Many pediatricians 50 and older are willing to work past retirement age on a part-time basis.

TotalMenWomenSubspecialistPrimary care
Provided or will provide patient care past age 6545%54%28%45%45%
Provided or will provide patient care past age 7015%19%6%12%16%
Willing to work longer if part-time work is available81%81%82%82%78%

Source: "Patterns of Work and Retirement Among Pediatricians Age less than or equal to Years," Pediatrics, Dec. 14, 2009 (link)

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External links

"Trends in the Academic Workforce of Obstetrics and Gynecology," abstract, Obstetrics & Gynecology, January (link)

"Part-time Work Among Pediatricians Expands," abstract, Pediatrics, published online Dec. 14, 2009 (link)

"Patterns of Work and Retirement Among Pediatricians Aged = 50 years," abstract, Pediatrics, published online Dec. 14, 2009 (link)

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