Focused on in the recent New York Times op-ed, “Don’t Quit This Day Job,” the number of part-time physicians in America has been increasing, by 62 percent since 2005 alone, with a large portion of these part-timers being women, as reported by the American Medical Group Association.
The op-ed, contributed by full-time female anesthesiologist and mother of four Dr. Karen Sibert, argues that part-time doctoring does not work and, furthermore, robs the general public of its resources and well-deserved patient care and medical access. Sibert offers the following facts:
- Medical training at the university and residency level uses federal and state funding. The people who benefit from this funding and then work only part-time are wasting societal resources.
- Part-time doctors take limited residency positions that someone who would have worked full-time could have taken.
- Their shortened availability and work hours add to the gap between physicians and patients and lessen patient care reliability.
Sibert urges medical hopefuls, especially women, to “consider the conflicting demands that medicine and parenthood make before they accept (and deny to others) sought-after positions in medical school and residency.” As she argues, “you can’t have it all” but you have to make a decision to devote yourself to medicine even if you have other responsibilities as “it deserves to be a life’s work.”
In response to this provocative piece addressing issues core to the contemporary issue of work-life balance, affecting women especially, Carey Goldberg of Commonhealth wrote a piece entitled, “7 Arguments In Defense Of Women Who Doctor Part-Time.” In this article, she consulted with women familiar with the topic–Tracey Hyams, Director of the Women’s Health Policy and Advocacy Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Dr. Paula Johnson, Executive Director of the Connor’s Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at the Brigham; and Lotte Bailyn, Professor of Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management—for their opinions.
They argued collectively that Sibert’s theories had several flaws that invalidate her argument. Firstly, Sibert’s argument regarding the importance of productivity gaps between part-time and full-time providers ignores the logic that quality of care trumps productivity and proves more important for patients.
There is a large gap in informal caregiving, with women shouldering a larger portion of at-home and elder care over their lifespans than men, concluding “that unless there’s gender equity at home and in society, we can’t expect that women will not want and need to work part-time at some point during their lives.”
They also argue that teams of physicians assistants and ancillary care providers are qualified to do much of the patient care, enabling doctors to have more flexibility in their schedules.
Finally they conclude that women take many of the less desirable medical positions, such as primary care physicians, that men do not, a point that Sibert makes in her piece as well, and that without these women, whether part-time or full-time, we would have an even greater shortage in medical care providers than we do at the moment.
Lisa Belkin, in another New York Times op-ed “Should Women Be Doctors?” argues that “where Dr. Sibert sees slacking, [she] see[s] a new norm. One that requires fewer hours of more workers, perhaps. One that is [sic] should be embraced by men and women.”
The basic question underlying these arguments is whether or not increased work flexibility and a changing workplace mentality inspired by gender differences adds to the women’s movement or undermines it. Should women, and men for that matter, conform to traditional work norms and roles in order to advance or is the greater victory found in changing those norms to suit contemporary lifestyles?
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