Achieving Work Life Balance Through Part Time Work

Recently, Crispy Doc ran an interview with Vagabond MD that highlighted his road to part-time work.  This struck a cord with me as I’ve considered doing the same despite being in my second year as an attending physician.  In fact, Crispy Doc and I had a conversation about achieving work life balance through part time work in Orlando at FinCon.

When I came home after the conference, I ran into one of our staff members who is responsible for scheduling and had a simple question:  Are there any other men in our department that are part-time?

The answer was unsurprising: Not a single male anesthesiologist less than the typical retirement age was part-time.

I should mention up-front that this is something I’ve been chewing on, but have not committed to in any way, shape, or form.  Consider this post my musings on why I might eventually go part-time.

My vision of part-time would have one of two looks, in my mind:  (1) a clinical reduction in my workload (to be able to focus more on other aspects of my job that simply need more time – like research or education) or (2) going to 80-90% of an FTE (Full-Time Equivalent) to allow for a few more days off each month. 

Truth be told, I work more than 1 FTE right now and so asking to work my normal amount of shifts might even suffice.

Why Should I Care?

After finding out that no other men in the department were part-time, it kind of bothered me at first.  It dawned on me later that it probably shouldn’t matter to me what others at work will think if I go part-time.  After all, being a man to my family should matter more than what others think about it at work.

I’ve gotten to the point where I care very little about the expectations that others set for me. Expectations about my job, and my career trajectory.  Expectations about what it means to be a full-time working man who has a family.

It’s not to say that I don’t value the opinions of others that are wiser than me and with more experience.  It is just that what I want out of this life might be very different than what others have desired.

I simply want to pursue what I am passionate about and to have enough time to do that while balancing my home life.  With my wife starting a full-time job in July that has kicked my work-life balance square in the face, this has become something I’ve spent considerable time thinking about.

The Reason

Why would I consider going part-time? What problems will this solve?  Those are great questions, and something I’ve given a lot of thought to, but never written down in words.

How would going part-time help me? Here are the first five answers that came to me.

1. A Better Husband and Dad

Since the end of the last academic year, I’ve been an absolute grouch.  The reason is that I was ending a three month rotation in the general OR when we were short-staffed.  With little academic time, this all compounded into a mess when my wife started back full-time.  It felt like getting sucker-punched right after running a marathon.

What I noticed on my rare off days was interesting to me.  I actually acted more like myself. On the occasions that I had more than a day or two off, my wife would even say things like, “There’s the man that I married… I was wondering where he went.”  

Ouch. Here’s your sign, TPP.

Not only was I more pleasant to be around during my time off, but I was also more helpful.

The days off gave me the opportunity to help around the house.  I could go shopping, cook dinner, and have it ready when my wife got home.  Cleaning the dishes didn’t seem like such a chore either, because I had time during the day to get other stuff done that was weighing on me.

Going part-time would only help, I think.

I’d end up being more helpful around the house instead of resenting my wife for getting off work late (again) – which isn’t fair given my line of work and the number of times I’ve been later than anticipated.

2. A Better Physician

Having more time would allow me to have more opportunities to pursue the things that I am truly passionate about.  With an ever growing to-do list, it becomes difficult sometimes to have enough hours in the day to get it all done.

Given that I am constantly yearning for more time to get things done, going part-time might relieve some of this stress.

That stress is what has been mounting and leading to compassion fatigue and being short and feisty with colleagues at times.

3.  A Better Physician Scientist

Right now, my research efforts have come to a screeching halt compared to where they were in my last years of training and my first year as an attending physician.  While I help with the studies that my colleagues are carrying on, I cannot at this time imagine taking on more research responsibilities than the current two or three that I am doing.

Going part-time would allow me the time that I need to get research objectives accomplished, which is one of the three pillars of academia (teaching, research, and clinical work).  I always wanted to be a triple threat – being good at all three.  Yet, I feel like I can only keep up with one or two right now.

Given that I used to have a strong desire to do research, I bet that this would come right back if I had the time off to promote balance in both my work and home life

4. A Better Blogger

This blog has been really successful this year.  I hoped to get to 10,000 monthly page views by the end of my first year.  For the past two months, it’s been well over 16,000.

As I continue to write, and the message starts to resonate – I can tell that this thing isn’t too far from taking off.  What’s holding it back is the lack of time I have to put into getting the message in front of people.

Getting traffic doesn’t happen by accident.  Any blogger knows that they have to get themselves out there.  But this takes time to write guest posts, produce social media content, and recruit new readers.

I’d have more time to do all of this if I was part-time.

5.  I’d be happier

In the end, this is the biggest reason.

I think that I would be happier cutting back to part-time medicine.  This would allow me hopefully focus on the parts of my job that I love and to have better balance at home.  Many people have talked about how finding the right number of shifts (or workload) was the key ingredient to rediscovering their love for medicine.  This includes the likes of Passive Income MD, Crispy Doc, and Physician on FIRE.

But I can only see this happening and making me happier when our non-mortgage debt is gone.  At that point, I’d feel like we could truly enjoy our life without having the stress of needing the paycheck we’ve come accustomed to seeing.

Take Home

I still love my job and what I do.  I find it fulfilling and helpful and satisfying.  None of that has changed.

That said, the balance I used to have between work and life has come into question.  While I continue to ponder this dilemma and the direction of my career, this may turn into quite a few more posts.

All I know is that, for now, this is definitely on the table. We will see what happens.  Something has got to give.

Have you ever considered going part-time? For those that have, did you find it helpful?  Leave a comment below.

TPP

 

 

 

 

 

19 thoughts on “Achieving Work Life Balance Through Part Time Work

  1. Your post resonates with me as I have been trying to find a work/life balance for my two professions, medicine and writing, both of which are, needless to say demanding, in addition to having some “life” balance left, for the last 40 years or so.

    Here’s one caution:
    I tried working 80% time in my private practice group where all the other physicians were full-time (like yours). Even thought I accepted 80% salary, rather than receiving kudos for trying to balance my life, I was the butt of resentment, basically forced to work 90% time (still paid for 80%), and found that the extra afternoon I was taking off was eaten up by sleep and other neglected duties (not writing). In our current culture where most physicians consider “full-time” work 80+ hours a week, working part-time is very, very difficult. In the world of millennials, this may start to change.

    In anesthesiology, where you work shift work routinely, fewer hours may go relatively unnoticed and may be worth a try. PoF would be the expert on that.

    In my world, I found working locum tenens allowed me to work full-throttle “full-time” when I wanted to for as long as I wanted to, then stop and devote myself to writing and other pursuits (like scuba diving and film making in the Philippines). That approach worked better for me.
    I also discovered that 7 on/7off shifts allowed me to indulge my passion for nonstop work, and then give me a break, allowing me to return to work refreshed and eager to see patients again.

    I now have a full-time academic job that allows me to work 7 on/7off, which is unusual in this setting, but is one of the reasons I took the job. It works for me and my colleagues.

    Locum tenens, either part-time or full-time, is one solution for the work/life balance dilemma. My new book, “The Locum Life: A Physician’s Guide to Locum Tenens,” addresses work/life balance, and will be available on Amazon and Kindle and other formats early next year.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with making effort to balance your life. Sounds like your wife will endorse it!

    • Fortunately, anesthesia is a little more friendly to this idea than many specialties. Particularly academic anesthesia. That said, it would be tough not to feel judged when I’d be the only one doing it.

      I appreciate your insight! Glad to know I am not alone.

  2. I wish I had come to the realization as early as you have in your career, but cutting back clinical hours does actually prolong your career and in the long run likely add to your overall finances (although you make less each year, you feel much more able to practice medicine longer as burnout is put on hold).

    For me I cut 1 day of clinical time each week by hiring a semi-retired radiologist to cover for me. That extra day a week has done wonders for my psyche. I feel recharged. That day off can either be completely lazy or it can be super productive (it is nice to go do errands when the majority of people are at work as the lines are much quicker etc).

    There is a bit of a financial hit, but not as much as you think due to the progressive tax system we are in.

    You are right to not care what your colleagues think when you do decide to reduce clinical workload. You are doing it for you and your family, not them.

    If you are already noticing personality changes effecting your relationship with your wife etc, it is definitely a sign that work is starting to consume you and you can be in the early stages of burnout (which can happen at any stage of your career). Reducing clinical workload is a great way to fight back.

    Congrats on the success of the blog. It does take a lot of time to put out a quality product consistently. Even though I can put the equivalent of a full day of work blogging, the time spent is much more enjoyable than my primary gig which shows that at least for me it is a passion project.

    • Thanks for the support, Xrayvsn. I just want to be intentional about my decisionion.

      I think I’ll wait til our non-mortgage debt is gone, if I ever do this at all.

      That said, it’s all about balance and I am trying to find that right now. Ironically, the blog actually helps. Writing is catharsis for me. Helps me sort my thoughts out.

  3. I’m 13 months in to my part-time experiment and it’s been awesome. I went to 20 hours a week and have those other 20+ back (if you add on the commute) to build my businesses, work on my fitness, and practice taking naps. I’m definitely less stressed, and physically and mentally healthier. And I keep my benefits at work, although I have to contribute more to my health plan. But I can live with that.

  4. Reframing what “full time” work actually is was the first step for me in cutting back. I ran myself ragged when I was “only” working 4.5 clinical days, but when I actually counted up the amount of time I was spending working/charting/logging on during the weekends, I was working 60 hours a week.

    It’s fascinating when you decide 40-45 hours a week is full time. It’s anathema to what we know as physicians. There’s always guilt that you should be doing more, that you’re not helping as many people as you could be, you’re not accomplishing enough.

    But being a better husband, wife, father, mother, friend, PERSON is never a worthless goal.

    What’s the point of attaining financial independence and having all this money if you lose connection with the important people in your life on the journey?

    • Completely agree, M. That trade off (financial independence for life balance) is not worth it.

      All I ever preach to other people is intentional decisions with good information. Just trying to do the same here.

      It is amazing, the perspective we take in medicine.

  5. I am considering part time work as well for all the reasons you listed. And just like in your institution, my workplace does not have any males who go part time either. We millennial male doctors can be pioneers, go part time, and create a change in the culture!

  6. TPP,

    So happy to hear you continuing to consider this course of action.

    We all have superpowers we can leverage to make part-time happen, the greatest being our very forgiving physician income.

    You seem to be in the workhorse stage of your young academic attendinghood, and I suspect from your musings that what you are entertaining is really cutting back to full-time.

    As long as you feel you are hitting your priority list, with the meaningful relationships not being cheated out of their fair share of your presence, you can keep up the (still-blistering) reduction to full-time and use the years to front-load your savings.

    This will undoubtedly put you in a position of power on the back end.

    Very much look forward to seeing where your path leads. In the meantime I’m not alone in appreciating the very thoughtful manner in which you are navigating it.

    Fondly,

    CD

    • Spot on, crispy doc. Spot on.

      Full time would feel like part time right now. I worked 1.3 FTE last year. this year I am set to work 1.2 FTE.

      After this debt is gone, I’ll ask for a full time schedule and try and balance it all better.

      And I 100% agree that this would likely help my career last longer. Probably best for everyone, honestly!

  7. While I agree about not caring what other colleagues may (negatively) think of a 53 year old rad male working part time, I am annoyed that I frequently have to explain myself, often in inconvenient or embarrassing situations.

    On the other hand, I have been spending the last two days with an old BFF from residency, and he is totally stoked that his buddy (me) has the wherewithal to make the part time thing work.

  8. Just found this site.
    Thank all of you, just knowing I’m not the only one feeling this way helps. 4:14 am. Couldn’t sleep.

  9. Shifting to part-time work has been wonderful for my life for many of the reasons you listed.
    I don’t know any doctors who went part-time and then couldn’t wait to go back to fulltime. I may consider doing FT work in the future, but for now I’m loving a three-day a week schedule.
    I’m a better father, husband, volunteer, philanthropist, running partner, doctor, blogger, and investor because of my decreased work hours.

    • I hear you, Wealthy Doc. Honestly, I’ve worked between 1.2 and 1.3 FTE the last 18 months. So, even cutting back to full-time would be an improvement. I am not forcing the point right now because that extra time has allowed me to pay off my debt more quickly, but when it’s gone – I won’t have a big incentive to keep doing it anymore.

      Glad to know that my thought process is in line with your experience as well. Super helpful.

  10. I went with the 40-45 hour/week job straight out of training last year (all the others I considered would have been 55+). Already, the thought of ever working “full time” is distressing to me. I don’t think I could stomach it. Sure, I’m missing out on some money. But, my 4-year-old just told me today that his favorite thing in the world is wrestling with Daddy, and all my extra wrestle time is being taxed at a 0% marginal rate!

    I am the object of some ridicule in the doctors’ lounge, some of which I think reflects a real resentment. I’ve just accepted that if I can’t please both my wife and Dr. Surgeon with my hours… I’ll err on the side of the one to whom I’ve made an oath.

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