Thursday, May 1, 2008

Current Doctors Want Work-Life Balance

A Wall Street Journal article noted that the current generation of doctors want to have a balanced professional career and family life. This belief is far different than in the past when doctors essentially did nothing else except practice medicine. The implications for patients are that the doctors you like may only work part-time and when you wish to see them that they might not be available. It doesn't necessarily mean that the care you receive is any worse but that it might be different that what we are used to.

What is fascinating is that many older doctors view this new generation of doctors' work ethic (or lack thereof in the former group's eyes) as (a) a reflection of a group that feels entitled or (b) as not good enough because the high costs of education and relatively low return in compensation relative to other more lucrative careers, like business, are attracting the best and brightest. Many of those doctors simply feel that increasing doctor compensation or making medical education less expensive would simply result in the return of doctors who do nothing else but see the practice of medicine as a calling. Anything less is viewed as inferior medical care.

Unfortunately, they are completely mistaken. The trend of the current generation of doctors merely indicates this cohort’s desire for work-life balance. It isn’t limited to just medicine as all businesses and organizations have noticed the same thing. Certainly medical care has gotten much more complicated with patients living longer with more complex problems. The answer isn’t simply increasing compensation or decreasing medical school loans (although either would be helpful), but rather how do we develop programs and systems that make the practice of medicine sustainable. Institutions and medical groups that do so will be rewarded with new doctors. Those that fail will find it increasingly more difficult to hire colleagues. There is no reason to believe that this generation of doctors can’t meet the challenges of medical care the same way other groups have done before them. There is no reason to expect that medical care will suffer simply because one generation views the world differently than previous groups.

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