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My Career as a Part-Time Physician

Dr. Rona Schwartz joins us at SheMD to discuss how she created a part-time career as a physician that fit her lifestyle. She shares how and why she encourages new physicians to consider taking less than full time from the start if they can afford it. And how it may prevent burnout and make scheduling easier as a working parent. While part-time isn't for everyone, this is a GREAT post on how a part-time career as a physician make work PERFECTLY for some!

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Since I finished residency in 2000 ( 20 years ago!) I have always worked part time. My first job at a health clinic had an opening for a 36 hour a week employee. Since I was newly married and living in a new city , I was hopeful to explore and relax on my half day off. As most physicians experience, a 40 hours / week job can really be working 50 hours a week so pretty soon working “ part time” really just helped me to work 40 hours.

Soon after, I had my first child and I came back at 12 weeks but dropped my schedule to 32 hours. I had one full day off a week to be home with my infant. I hired a babysitter and , due to my husband's more irregular hours, the babysitter worked the exact hours I was out of the house. This ended up that I paid her for 40 hours a week to work 4 ten hour days. I was aware if i was working 40 hours a week, I would have needed to pay the babysitter for overtime to get to 50 hours. I felt lucky to have my 32 hours and to be able to afford a full time babysitter.

As a new mom, I enjoyed my day off ( or day ‘on”) with my infant and met a stay at home mom in the neighborhood to walk with. She would share with me all the activities from the “moms groups” that I was missing on the other days, and I started to feel the working moms guilt- seeing what I “could” or “should” be doing as a parent. This persistent feeling of ‘dipping my toe” in the stay at home mom life but never really diving in persisted as my children grew. Even to this day I feel some guilt for sending the babysitter to pick up a sick child or for missing out on class presentations.

I often was the first to volunteer for any field trip that would happen on my non-working day. I treasured those trips. I also felt guilt when they would be canceled and moved to the next week on a day I already had full patients. Or when plays or teacher conferences happened and I could not attend. I knew how hard it was for my patients to schedule their appointments with me and rarely canceled on my patients.

After my second child was born, I moved to a city on the east coast and planned to continue to find a job with similar hours. This was in the early 2000s and I was surprised how hard it was to find a job willing to allow me to work part-time. I recall one interview with a female director of a small health center telling me it was “too complicated” to do the schedules for a part time employee. I argued I only wanted 1 day off but was told it would be too hard to schedule. At that time an opportunity in academics also seemed unreachable for someone wanting a 32 hour week.

Fortunately, I did find a job, though at a lesser salary, that allowed me to work 4 days and have one full day off. But my ability to ‘advance” in my career has been somewhat limited. I have had leadership roles but have always felt judged or singled out for being the part timer at these meetings. When my children were young, I continued to spend my day off work being “on '' for them.. school events, orthodontic appointments, etc.. .As they got older I was able to have a regular walking date with a friend and take exercise classes. I had thought I would work more as my kids grew up but just when they got to the high school my husband and I found ourselves caring for his elderly parents. My day off allowed me the privilege of caring for my father in law in his last years before he passed away.

Over the years I have tried to encourage new physicians to consider taking less than full time from the start if they can afford it. In my opinion it actually prevents burnout and ends up making scheduling easier as part time providers seem to call out sick less and often have a good work life balance.

There have been other unfair issues. At one time there was a policy at my job that if you are full time and volunteer for an extra shift, such as weekend, you have a special higher rated salary. However, if you were less than full time and volunteered you were paid at a lower rate. This never made sense to me- trying to encourage overworked staff? Even though I now do have a leadership role, I feel as though I should not speak up about my hours in the leadership meetings as though it is a special arrangement just for me.

I know now there are many new providers working part time from the beginning and I am always happy to hear this. I have been fortunate financially to be able to be able to work part time and know that not everyone can afford to do this. But I do wish physician leaders would not only accept part timers but welcome and inspire them to be leaders in their organizations. Covid has hit home about the importance of family and mental health care and physician leaders can model this for themselves and their colleagues.

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