LOS ANGELES – In the public perception, medical doctors are among the hardest-working, most dedicated professionals in the work force, routinely toiling through 12- or 15-hour days.
Some doctors undoubtedly do work that much. But the trend in the United States is for doctors to work less, not more. Today’s physicians work, on average, 51 hours a week – a figure likely not uncommon in a great many other professions (teaching, law, journalism).
A study released Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed doctors’ work hours from 1976 to 2008. About 1997, doctors began working less, with hours declining nearly 7.2 percent between 1997 and 2007. The drop was seen across all types of doctors: men, women, young, old, hospital-based, self-employed, resident and non-resident. However, older doctors still tend to work more hours than younger doctors.
It’s not clear why doctors are working less, but the decline in pay per hour is likely one cause. Average doctor fees, adjusted for inflation, decreased by 25 percent between 1995 and 2006. Doctors today “may have less incentive” to work, the authors of the paper note.
The trend has implications for society. Doctor shortages are already felt in some parts of the country and are predicted to become more acute in coming years.