Blog | Friday, January 15, 2010

Doctors Continue To Flee Primary Care: Pediatricians Go Part-Time

This post by Dr. Gwenn is in appeared January 14 at Better Health.

The WSJ Blog posted recently that health care job postings are up and that the health care job market is "strong."

According to the post, "The business research group said that 'advertised vacancies for healthcare practitioners or technical occupations outnumbered the unemployed looking for work in this field by almost 3 to 1,' citing November data."

While it's true that more job openings than job hunters is typically a good thing and indicates a robust job market, the WSJ Blog failed to recognize one important issue with the health care industry: in some areas of the health care sector, namely primary care, docs are leaving the field of medicine all together, and have been for at least a decade. So, it's no wonder there are so many job openings ... there's no one around to fill them!

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics, "Part-time Work Among Pediatricians Expands," gives a great over view of the pediatric work force and confirms the experience I've had in the field for the last 15-plus years.

Part-time work isn't new to pediatrics, given the amount of women in the field, but it used to be more popular as careers advanced. According to this study, however, pediatricians are now opting for part-time work right out of the gate, just after training or during, in their 30s. And, that more men are going part time as well as subspecialists along with the women and generalists that have been steady part timers for a while. All told, as of 2006, 23% of the pediatric work force was documented as part time--and growing!

Here's another tidbit for you: Buried in the data I discovered, that not only are pediatricians going part time but many are leaving the field. In fact, 12% of pediatricians are currently in nonclinical jobs.

I couldn't find any new data on how many pediatricians are leaving the field or doing what I have done and altered the career path over time to become more nonclinical at a young age, but I can tell you anecdotally it's not a small number. I know many pediatricians not working now by choice, working incredibly part time or just opting for nonclinical paths because the current clinical paths, even part-time ones, were not compatible with family life and a satisfying economic future.

Doctors leaving the field before the age of 50 is a huge red flag for any field. I hope the field of pediatrics recognizes that and seriously takes a look at not just the training but the practice of pediatrics and the current economic models being offered in all aspects of the field.

As for me, I don't regret the decisions I made. I've always enjoyed the more academic pursuits and I was going to end up in a more academic, nonclinical field regardless of any practice issue at play--the writing for that was on the wall for a very long while. I've always found volunteering at a free clinic an amazing way to "practice" pediatrics and give back to society. So, that's how I stay fresh and keep my skills up--and help people in society who otherwise wouldn't have access to a pediatrician. But, when I was a younger pediatrician and toying with options, it would have been nice had there been more that worked and I hope for future pediatricians who want to practice clinical pediatrics that the future is brighter for them in that sector. Right now, it's way too challenging and frustrating!

Are you a doc not using your stethoscope any more or using your training in a way you never predicted? Tell us about it in the comments. You are very much not alone!

This post originally appeared on Better Health , a network of popular health bloggers brought together by Val Jones, MD. Better Health's mission is to support and promote health care professional bloggers, provide insightful and trustworthy health commentary, and help to inform health policy makers about the provider point of view on health care reform, science, research and patient care.