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So You Want to be a Part-Time Physician?

So You Want to be a Part-Time Physician?

Physician stress levels have reached epidemic proportions with nearly 55 percent reporting at least one symptom of burnout, according to a 2015 Mayo Clinic study, prompting healthcare leaders to declare it a public health crisis in Health Affairs.

This tenuous environment may be one of the reasons why more than 63 percent of physicians would consider part-time employment, as this year's Physicians Practice Great American Physician Survey reveals.

For many physicians though, the definition of part-time may be anything but traditional. From a reduction in clinical hours to greater control over patient scheduling, part-time employment may not be defined solely by hours worked. More accurately, part-time means allowing more time and energy for self and family, the pursuit of hobbies and interests, and the exploration of tangential careers. Here are three examples of such arrangements and advice for physicians looking to do the same.     

Locum tenens

Jacques Days, MD, a locum tenens family medicine physician with Consilium Staffing in Columbia, S.C., began working weekend locum positions in 2002 while still employed full-time at a community health clinic. He continued accepting shifts off and on for the next several years, using them to supplement his income during a sabbatical to pursue a pastoral degree in 2007. Shortly thereafter, Days accepted a pastoral position with a local church and ended his sabbatical, once again going back to juggling full-time practice and the occasional locum shifts along with his new position.

By 2013, Days was growing frustrated with the administrative burden and scheduling rigidity of full-time practice and decided to narrow his healthcare focus to locum tenens exclusively, first for a state mental health facility and then a state correctional facility a few years later. While his hours fluctuated significantly during this time, the primary benefit remained. "With locums, I've worked several different schedules — everywhere from two days to five days per week consistently — but the difference is that I choose when I work," said Days.

Now back in a community health setting and working approximately two days per week, Days has found that part-time employment allows him to maintain his professional skills, achieve work-life balance, and worry less about the business side of running a practice. While part-time employment may be difficult to achieve right out of medical school, he said it can be a worthwhile option for those who would like to pursue other career opportunities, need to tend to family obligations, or are struggling with burnout.

Days encourages locum tenens physicians to negotiate with their agency to ensure that malpractice insurance and tail coverage are provided. As an independent contractor, finding a simple way to document expenses and mileage can pay off big when tax time comes around also. "Plan, prepare, and gather information! Don't just jump into anything," says Days. "Seek information from colleagues who do locums, ask a lot of questions about any opportunity you are considering, and make sure the company aligns with your own vision and ideals."

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