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Doctors - Less vocation, more vacation?

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In corporate America, we have heard the term work and family, or work-life, balance drummed into our heads for the last 25 years. This movement has led to the development of more flexible work arrangements, compressed schedules and less restrictive work hours, mostly for the white-collar world.

Experts will tell you that as women and now younger generations have entered the work force, work and family balance has become more of a priority for corporate workers. There is more focus than ever on these workplace issues, and the United States seems to be one of the most challenging environments for this type of balance. Now, it appears that the medical community may be joining this corporate trend and asking increasingly for more work and family balance in their lives.

This made me wonder, has the 24/7, medical “vocation” lost out to more family time and “vacation”? And, is that necessarily a bad thing? Shouldn’t medical personnel have the same privileges that are increasingly expected in other professions?

Jacob Goldstein wrote on this trend in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal and WSJ Healthcare Blog and tried to answer this question. His story and post illustrated how younger doctors’ quest for free time and balance is re-shaping medicine, building more team-based approaches and setting more regular hours. To be sure, there are pros and cons to this development and how it may re-define what constitutes quality care.

Louis Weinstein, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, however, summed it up well:

“I can promise you that I will be available for your delivery, but I have no idea how many hours I will have been up and … how many c-sections I will have done [since awakening] … Or, I can assure you that one of my colleagues will be fresh, will be available and will be focusing just on you. Which would you prefer?”

When my son was born last November, my wife and I had to adjust to this new world. The doctor who had delivered our first two daughters had taken on a new doctor to her practice and scaled back her own weekend hours to get more work and family balance in her life. It made perfect sense to me from a rational point of view, but not from the irrational father side of me who wanted the same trustworthy hands delivering baby No. 3.

Our doctors alternated weekends and off-hours. They both were familiar with my wife and had met with her on office visits. On the office trips I was able to make, as luck would have it, I always saw our old doctor and never met the new doctor until the night my wife went into labor.

I am not always comfortable with change, so my wife warned me to keep an open mind as she lay there in labor. She wasn’t worried at all. And, as you’d expect the new doctor was wonderful. She was attentive, reassuring, skillful and calmly handled the complications that came with our son’s delivery. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.

Work and family balance … Just another way the world of health care is changing.

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