Physicians' personal time is as important as work, survey finds

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published December 11, 2017

Key Takeaways

Physicians have a reputation as Type-A workaholics, with an overambitious zeal to achieve and to cure. While there’s certainly a degree of truth to that image, our recent survey paints a slightly different picture of today’s physician.

In this survey, conducted by M3 Global Research in August 2017, more than 60% of 1,150 physicians nationwide said they value their personal time as much or more than they value their work. However, that doesn’t mean they take their labors lightly. After “family,” most physicians prioritize their clinical skill and their contribution to society over income and free time.

In addition, the survey provides answers on long workdays, preferences for ways to reduce workload, and anxiety about childcare leave. 

Working hours
More than one-third of respondents (37%) report their average workday lasts 10 to 11 hours. More than one-fourth (28%) work an 8- to 9-hour day, while one-fifth (19%) spend 12 to 13 hours a day at work. A very small percentage—3%—report working 15 or more hours each day.

According to our survey, the largest percentage of men (39%) said they typically work 10- to 11-hour days, while the largest percentage of women (41%) reported working 8- to 9-hour days.

Lightening your load
In what areas do doctors want to reduce their workload? Believe it or not, more respondents said they’d prefer to decrease outpatient management (34%) than those who’d choose to reduce administrative duties (29%). One in five docs (20%) would lessen being on call, while 17% would cut back on inpatient management, and 15% would skip administrative meetings.

Childcare and careers
Overall, 22% of respondents reported taking childcare leave. Not surprisingly, responses differed greatly between women and men. More than half of women (52%) had taken childcare leave, while 31% did not. (The remaining 17% of women didn’t have children.) Among men, 9% had taken childcare leave and 80% did not (along with 11% who didn’t have children).

More than two-thirds of all respondents (68%) said they thought it would be “definitely” or “somewhat” difficult to take childcare leave due to a negative impact on their career or the lack of covering physicians. Only 9% said it wouldn’t be difficult at all. For this question, women and men didn’t differ greatly in their responses—68% of men and 70% of women thought it would be difficult to take childcare leave, while only 10% of men and 8% of women said it wouldn’t be difficult at all.

Work-life balance
Which is more important to you: professional time or personal time? The greatest percentage of respondents (33%) said they “value work equally as much as my private time.”

Nearly as many (32%) reported that work is more important, “But I value my private time as well.” One in four respondents (25%) flipped that script, saying that private time is more important, “But I value my work as well.” On the outer ends of the spectrum, 6% found greater meaning in work and 4% put a premium on private time.

Personal and professional priorities
Lastly, our survey asked: “What is important in your life?” About four of five respondents (82%) ranked family as a major priority, and 56% said family is their number one priority. Other priorities that ranked high on their list (in descending order): skill as a clinician or surgeon, contribution to society, income, free time, and (noticeably lower on the list than the others) position/reputation.  

Said one respondent, an orthopedic surgeon from the Southwest, “Taking care of patients and doing good technical work is what is most rewarding.”

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