How medicine became a family-friendly job
Britni Hebert was chief resident, on track for a career in the highly demanding field of oncology, when she found out she was having twins. She couldn’t imagine 80-hour workweeks with two newborns at home, while her husband was doing an equally intensive radiology fellowship. But she didn’t leave the profes
sion. Instead, Dr. Hebert, 37, decided to practice internal medicine and geriatrics, with more control over her hours. She has been able to change her schedule three times as her family’s needs have changed, and now works about 85% of full-time hours.
Medicine has become something of a stealth family-friendly profession, at a time when other professions are growing more greedy about employees’ time. Jobs increasingly require long, inflexible hours, and pay disproportionately more to people who work them. But if one parent is on call at work, someone else has to be on call at home. For most couples, that’s the woman — which is why educated women are being pushed out of work or into lower-paying jobs.
But medicine has changed in ways that offer doctors and other health care workers the option of more control over their hours, depending on the specialty and job they choose, while still practicing at the top of their training and being paid proportionately.
Flexible, predictable hours are the key — across occupations — to shrinking gender gaps, according to the body of research by Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard. As American employers struggle to adapt to the realities of modern family life and as younger generations of workers demand more balance, medicine offers a road map.
Dr. Hebert estimates that forgoing oncology halved her lifelong earnings. But she’s grateful that she had other options for practicing medicine — and can still meet her children at the school bus most afternoons.
“I don’t want to pretend there aren’t sacrifices that come with the path that I’ve chosen,” she said, “but I just don’t think I could be employed at this time if not for being able to decide my schedule.” A generation ago, the typical doctor owned a private practice, and saw patients whenever they got sick. Today, doctors are much likelier to work for large group practices or hospitals and be on call at predictable times. 70% of doctors under 40 are now employees, not owners, according to American Medical Association data.
Large group practices give doctors more work-life balance, because there are more people who can serve as substitutes and divide night and weekend work.
“The old market expectation that your doctor will be available at all hours and is entirely flexible was beginning to fall apart as the work force became more diverse,” said Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “New generations look at the work-life balance of older generations of physicians, and I think many of them say, ‘I don’t want that.’”
WORK-LIFE BALANCE: Medicine has become a familyfriendly profession that allows parents to plan their schedules according to their needs