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June 13 2011

A Bad Prescription for Work-Life Balance

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an interesting op-ed from an anesthesiologist about work-life balance. Her conclusion? “Medicine shouldn’t be a part-time interest to be set aside if it becomes inconvenient; it deserves to be a life’s work.” 

Huh? 

The author laments, “increasing numbers of doctors — mostly women — decide to work part time or leave the profession. Since 2005 the part-time physician workforce has expanded by 62 percent, according to recent survey data from the American Medical Group Association, with nearly 4 in 10 female doctors between the ages of 35 and 44 reporting in 2010 that they worked part time.” 

Now to me, that sounds like progress – women who might otherwise have not gone into medicine at all can have their career and a family! Sure, work-life balance is important… but apparently, isn't a privilege doctors should enjoy! 

What, pray tell, is the chip on the author’s shoulder?

Why, that the government pays for med school, and they’re not getting a good return on their investment! As she says, 

Medical education is supported by federal and state tax money both at the university level — student tuition doesn’t come close to covering the schools’ costs — and at the teaching hospitals where residents are trained. So if doctors aren’t making full use of their training, taxpayers are losing their investment. With a growing shortage of doctors in America, we can no longer afford to continue training doctors who don’t spend their careers in the full-time practice of medicine. 

Hmmm. Well heck, I can think of an easier way to address this problem than chaining women doctors to their stethoscopes. How about… we get the government out of the student loan industry, and out of the business of subsidizing doctors’ educations altogether? 

The author may think that requiring doctors to work full-time will address the “quantity” of care in the short-term… but this policy would have disastrous effects on the quality of care. Let’s allow doctors to decide their workload – and be justly compensated, not hamstrung by Medicare and Medicaid payment formulations. Patients deserve doctors who want to be there – and the best doctors should be paid accordingly.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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