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Doctors Working Less, Earning Less
Date:2/23/2010

Seven percent drop in hours may lead to physician shortages, researchers say,,,,

TUESDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Although physicians still work long hours, the past decade has seen a sharp decline in the average number of hours they work each week, a new study finds.

From 1976 through 1996, the average work week of doctors remained steady, but between 1996 and 2008, the average number of hours physicians spent at work dropped nearly four hours a week -- from 54.9 to 51 hours a week.

"After being stable at around 55 hours for decades, physicians' hours have declined 7 percent in the past decade to around 51 hours a week," said the study's lead author, Douglas Staiger, professor of economics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. "This is an unprecedented decline that we haven't seen before in physicians, and you don't see it for other professions, like lawyers."

Results of the study are published in the Feb. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, Staiger and his colleagues reviewed data on trends in physicians' work hours from the U.S. Census Bureau from 1976 through 2008. The survey included 116,733 doctors from across the country.

Initially, the researchers suspected that rules instituted in 2003 limiting the amount of time that physician residents can work in hospitals might have been behind the drop in physician hours. Although residents did have a larger decline in hours -- 9.8 percent on average -- the drop in hours worked affected all physicians, with non-resident physicians experiencing a 5.7 percent reduction in their work week.

"The decline in hours was very broad-based. It's happening among all types of physicians -- young and old, working at a hospital or not," said Staiger.

The biggest drops in hours worked were for non-resident physicians under 45 years old and those working outside of a hospital.


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