Doctors who work part time: I’m sorry that I’m ruining medicine


I work part-time.

Some people think that women who work part-time are ruining medicine and contributing to the physician shortage. So I want to present my very reasonable list of reasons why I work part-time in a flexible job:

1. I am sick constantly. Constantly. My kids are petri dishes. And it always lasts forever. Even as I’m writing this, I’m coughing, and my left ear really hurts and keeps popping. Is it easy to work under these circumstances? Not particularly. Maybe mothers of small kids who work full time have better immunity than me. Or maybe they’re just better at working while very sick.

2. I don’t have family members who can quickly cover for me in a pinch. When the daycare calls, saying my daughter has conjunctivitis and must be picked up NOW. (Literally, I am required to show up within an hour. OR ELSE.) Ideally, I would have a babysitter who waits by their phone, constantly on call for just this situation. Do those exist?

3. If the workday “ends” at 4PM, that’s the only way to guarantee making it to the daycare by 6:30pm. I have no backup if I can’t make it.

4. I like having two days off to recover from the week. It’s called a weekend. It probably seems crazy luxurious to you, but believe it or not, it’s sort of normal to most people.

5. When I feel like I’m rushing around and getting pulled in too many directions and expected to do three different jobs at once, I actually get kind of stressed out. And depressed. I don’t like feeling that way.

6. There are things I enjoy doing that don’t involve medicine or my kids. And if I work part-time, I get to actually very occasionally do some of them. It’s important to me. I feel guilty saying it, but it’s true.

7. When I am really stressed out, I am not super pleasant to be around. I start screaming at the top of my lungs and then burst into tears because my daughter won’t put her sneakers on in the morning. I’m sure I have inferior stress-compensation (likely genetic) compared to full-timers, but I just hate being like that.

8. I have trouble with night call. I never liked it, but at some point, between waking up for my baby’s cries and waking up to a beeping pager, my sleep became very dysfunctional and a major source of stress. I’ve seen professions to address it, and it’s better, but I can’t deal with working at night.

9. I don’t have the physical stamina you do, apparently. After working a very busy 10-hour day, I am too tired to play with my kids. I was never a high energy person. Somehow, I didn’t realize how important this was when I went into medicine. I wish I had the energy, but I simply don’t.

10. I am not a Type A personality. I just can’t do it all at once. And if I tried, I wouldn’t do it well. Does that mean I shouldn’t be a doctor?

Trust me, I feel guilty that I can’t work the hours some physicians work. Sometimes I wonder what’s wrong with me, that I can’t seem to juggle the same number of balls as some other women. But I have found a balance of career and family life that seems to work for me.

I’m sorry that I’m ruining medicine.

“Fizzy” is a physician who blogs at A Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor and Mothers in Medicine.

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