Willing to Earn Less to Work Less

Ed Rabinowitz

There has been a drastic shift in priorities for physicians over the last few decades. Now they're willing to earn less if it means less hours and more time at home with the family.

It’s not often that workers would be happy about a reduction in salary, let alone seek one out, but according to a recent survey by Physicians Practice, it’s a scenario many physicians would welcome.

The 2012 Great American Physician Survey found that 47.2% of respondents said they wished they could work fewer hours, and of those, more than one-third (34.2%) said they’d be willing to earn less in order to work less. Tony Stajduhar, president of Jackson & Coker’s Permanent Physician Recruitment Division, is not surprised by the survey’s results.

“If my kids are coming home from school, I want to spend some time with them too,” Stajduhar says. “I think the world has changed. But I also think there are things that have been happening in the medical profession that are shifting things that way as well.”

180-degree shift

Stajduhar points to a recent Jackson & Coker survey, “A Tough Time for Physicians,” that reflects a major shift in physician preferences since an original survey 25 years ago. That shift indicates physicians are placing a much greater emphasis on lifestyle and quality of life as opposed to how much they earn.

According to Stajduhar, with the many changes that health care has gone through over the last few decades, including less reimbursements, physicians are making lifestyle changes. Now, they’re focusing on the important aspects of their lives and what they have to give up going into a practice.

“Physicians seem to be okay making less if they can be where they want to be and have the type of practice they want to have,” he says.

Stajduhar believes this shift in attitude favoring lifestyle over earnings began as more women entered the medical profession.

“More than 50% of the people going into medical school now are women,” he says. “And the vast majority of them are looking to say, ‘I still want to have a family, and I want to have limited call schedule.’ They don’t want to lose lifestyle just for medicine.”

A means to an end

The growth of the hospitalist, Stajduhar says, is making it easier for physicians to achieve their quality of life goals. Whereas 10 years ago physicians were concerned that hospitalists were going to eat into their income and take away their patient base, many have come to embrace the relatively new position.

“It’s to the point where physicians almost feel that they can’t live without a place that doesn’t have hospitalists,” he says. “For the physicians who have stayed in an office practice, a traditional-type office practice, it’s made their life better and simpler and so that’s helped their lifestyle.”

Some physicians have even made the switch and become hospitalists. They might work some 12-hour shifts, Stajduhar says, but they also know that when they leave the hospital, they’re done. The switch has given them a better work-life balance.

“And, they’re earning just as well, if not better, than people in traditional outpatient practices,” he adds.

Recruiting incentives

Regardless of physicians being willing to sacrifice dollars for lifestyle, hospitals and medical groups are still paying competitive salaries, Stajduhar says, due to increased competition for physician services.

“The bottom line is residency programs are not growing and the population is,” he explains. “We’re already in a great [physician] shortage, and it’s just going to get worse.”

As such, it’s not unusual to find hospitals and medical practices offering attractive incentives to bring in new physicians. Most places, Stajduhar says, will pay relocation costs — that’s almost always a given. In addition, more and more practices are giving signing bonuses as an added incentive to get physicians. Those signing bonuses sometimes are used for student loan repayment or housing.

Then there are other practices that have gotten more creative.

“And I think it’s a great idea,” says Stajduhar, whose daughter is considering medical school. “If [physicians] want to come and work there and commit to being there five years or so, places are offering student loan repayment to pay off all those medical school debts, which can be significant at this time. So, there are a lot of things that people are doing to help get creative without crossing over lines that would put them in danger of violating Stark regulations.”