When Errin Weisman, DO, was practicing family medicine full time, every day felt like a battle to stay afloat.
“It was like the days I was in the clinic, I was diving to the bottom of the pool,” she says. “The days that I was off, it was like I’d come up for a fresh breath of air.”
Long shifts and endless rounds of grinding through an electronic medical records system and seeking prior authorizations on the phone had worn down the Indiana-based physician.
Recognizing that she was burned out, Dr. Weisman switched from full-time work to part-time hours. That was four years ago. These days, she typically spends between two and five hours in the mornings working as an attending physician at Crossroads Behavioral Health Hospital in Huntingburg, Indiana. In the afternoons, she works as a life coach and podcaster at Truth Prescriptions. And she is much happier.
“I still get to take care of patients and I still get to practice without the time burden,” she says. “I feel like I have a life outside of the office—like I’m an actual person.”
A growing trend
Dr. Weisman is among a growing number of doctors adding part-time work to their resumes.
Some look to part-time gigs as a source of “side income” and continue to work full-time jobs as well. But many others downshift permanently to a part-time schedule, says Travis Singleton, executive vice president at Merritt Hawkins, a physician search and recruitment firm.
Nearly 10 percent of physicians reported working 30 hours or less per week—including clinical and nonclinical tasks—in 2018, according to a joint survey of about 700,000 doctors by Merritt Hawkins and the Physicians Foundation. That’s a 16% increase from the number of physicians working 30 hours or less weekly in 2012.
Some doctors who make the move are frustrated by changes in medicine that leave them less room to practice as they see fit, Singleton says.
Others seek opportunities in part-time jobs that allow them to grow their expertise in ways their current jobs do not. Or they may just want to improve their work-life balance.
“With baby boomers and getting into millennials, they’re much more quality-of-life driven,” Singleton says. “They don’t have to make pie-in-the-sky money—they just have to be comfortable.”
Increased flexibility, autonomy
Like Dr. Weisman, Vania Manipod, DO, also felt burned out by her work. The Ventura, California-based psychiatrist found her first job out of residency so demanding that she was losing her passion for her work.
“I needed to make a change,” Dr. Manipod says.
She took two months off and realized she wanted a situation that offered more autonomy and flexibility.
“I changed my schedule to see patients three days a week in order to have a better balance between my work and personal life,” Dr. Manipod says.
Dr. Manipod joined a friend’s psychiatry practice and now works per diem on average between 24 and 32 hours a week.
“I am much happier because I’m able to see patients part-time while investing time in my other interests outside of practicing medicine,” she says.
These interests include writing, public speaking, travel and spending time with friends and family.
The desire for more independence—and a more fluid schedule—drives many physicians who switch to part-time work, Singleton says.
In the past, doctors called the shots in their own private practice, which created deep ties to their patients and community.
“Fast forward to today, you may see that in some rural parts of the U.S.,” Singleton says. “But the reality is that medicine has really become much more of an employee-based mechanism.”
As a result, many doctors today want to shake up their routine so they can still practice medicine some of the time but also “exercise that autonomous bone every once in a while.”
Doctors switching to a part-time schedule may worry about the challenges tied to bringing in a reduced salary.
Dropping to a part-time schedule cost Dr. Weisman one-third of her pay. In addition, she had “huge” student loans to pay off.
However, the transition to a lower income was easier because Dr. Weisman had not ramped up her lifestyle after residency.
“I had gotten the advice from a mentor who said, ‘Just keep living like a resident and get your loans paid off,’” she says.
Dr. Manipod also lives modestly. “I have been able to live comfortably despite a significant cut to my annual earnings,” she says.
She acknowledges that she has had to look at her budget more closely and to find ways to cut costs. “But it was worth it in order to prioritize my happiness and well-being,” she says.
In some cases, however, physicians working part-time can do quite well, Singleton says—particularly if they’re willing to work nights and weekends or work in a rural area.
“If you’re flexible about when you work, and you’re flexible about where you work, you can make as much part time as you can full time,” he says.
Advice for others
Doctors considering moving to a part-time schedule also need to overcome other obstacles.
Dr. Manipod felt a fear of the unknown and also was concerned about being labeled a “part-time physician.”
“It can be an isolating experience,” she says. “Reach out to friends and family who support you because ultimately they want you to be happy.”
Seeking out a mental health professional can help if you’re going through a tough time and having difficulty making a decision.
“My therapist helped me so much—to overcome feelings of failure, fear of judgment and to gain clarity of the decision I needed to make,” Dr. Manipod says.
Dr. Weisman also struggled with feelings of doubt about not working full time. But working with a life coach in 2014 calmed those worries.
“She really helped me get a lot of clarity as far as who I was and what I wanted,” Dr. Weisman says.
Dr. Weisman was so impressed that she got life coach training and now works with other doctors who are reaching a crossroads in their careers.
Physicians who decide to go part-time are likely to find an environment that is more hospitable to their desires than would have been the case in the past, Singleton says.
“The market is tight, talent is hard to get,” he says. “Employers need to accommodate younger physicians and what they want.”