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The Part-Time Professional Debate

The Part-Time Professional Debate

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Hey readers, I’m soliciting your opinion about what has become a controversial issue in the work-life balance/health care shortage/gender bias debate. Last month, an op-ed piece  by a physician and mother of four (not me!) criticized the decision by some (mostly female) physicians to practice medicine on a part-time basis.

The writer’s basic contention is that, because medical education is limited (only a certain number can be trained) and subsidized by the government, a physician’s decision to work part time (or not at all) is not just a personal choice but has far-reaching implications for the supply of physicians and how finite medical education resources are fairly distributed.

She has a point. I remember one medical school colleague who submitted over 100 applications over a four-year period before finally being admitted to medical school. He graduated just like everyone else and became an ophthalmologist, so presumably the decision to eventually admit him was a wise one. Is it fair to pass on potential physicians like this one and instead train someone (like my husband) who never actually practices medicine?

I’ve always worked full-time, partly because as an Army physician, there was only the one choice. When I left the Army, my husband and I made a joint decision, in favor of work-life balance and stability of our home life, for only one of us to work. That ended up being me for a number of excellent reasons, not the least of which is that my husband is a far better cook than I am. He is an MD/PhD, so is a highly trained stay-at-home dad. Obviously, we don’t feel that resources or education were wasted on him, but we have met people over the years who disagree.

Historically, the demands of being a physician have resulted in generations of physicians who were excellent clinicians but lousy spouses and parents. This is a generalization and many physicians, young and old, have been able to balance home and work demands and perform well at both. Just because the result of excessive training and work demands may have resulted in workaholics who prioritized being a doctor over everything else does not mean this is an enviable state or one that should continue. I think that while medical training needs to be rigorous, it also needs to acknowledge the best interest of the physician (to be rested, fed, and have a life outside of medicine). That’s the whole idea behind balance.

For me, personally, working full-time while my physician husband stays at home is the right solution. For others, it may mean job-sharing or working part time. I do believe that despite the enormous resources poured into training a physician that the physician is still the ultimate owner and authority on their priorities and decisions.

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