Doctors working fewer hours, study finds


— In the public perception, medical doctors are among the
hardest-working, most dedicated professionals in the work force,
routinely toiling through 12- or 15-hour days.

Some doctors undoubtedly do work that much. But the trend in the United States
is for doctors to work less, not more. Today’s physicians work, on
average, 51 hours a week — a figure likely not uncommon in a great many
other professions (teaching, law, journalism).

A study released Tuesday in the Journal of the
American Medical Association surveyed doctors’ work hours from 1976 to
2008. About 1997, doctors began working less, with hours declining
nearly 7.2 percent between 1997 and 2007. The drop was seen across all
types of doctors: men, women, young, old, hospital-based,
self-employed, resident and non-resident. However, older doctors still
tend to work more hours than younger doctors.

It’s not clear why doctors are working less, but the
decline in pay per hour is likely one cause. Average doctor fees,
adjusted for inflation, decreased by 25 percent between 1995 and 2006.
Doctors today “may have less incentive” to work, the authors of the
paper note.

The trend has implications for society. Doctor
shortages are already felt in some parts of the country and are
predicted to become more acute in coming years. And, the paper notes, a
5.7 percent decrease in hours among a work force of 630,000 doctors is
equivalent to the loss of nearly 36,000 doctors.

(c) 2010, Los Angeles Times.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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