A year ago, Dr. Stacy Childs was burnt out on medicine. A sought-after urologist with a thriving practice in Cheyenne, Wyoming, Childs had been routinely seeing 40 to 50 patients a day since 1995, when he set up the practice with two partners. But after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, he decided to scale back his workload. He wasn’t sure how to make the change, but he began contemplating downshifting his career to make time for other pursuits.
One of those pursuits was skiing. Childs and his family had always enjoyed the sport and had spent time in skiing hotspot Steamboat Springs, Colorado. So when a urology colleague invited Childs and his wife, Diana, to visit them in March 2004, he eagerly accepted.
It was during that trip that Dr. Rick Brothers proposed that Childs join Urology Clinic, PC, Brothers’ growing practice in Steamboat Springs. Six years earlier, Brothers had sold his own practice in Laramie, Wyoming, and moved to Steamboat Springs to slow down, starting a new practice there. But in those six years, the workload in Colorado had again risen to the point where he wanted to scale back his hours. If Childs joined him, they could share the workload and both enjoy plenty of time to ski and relax, something Childs hadn’t done much of. The timing of the proposal couldn’t have been better.
On returning to Cheyenne, Childs gave his partners 60 days notice and began packing for a move to Colorado. Although the workload was considerably less than he had in Wyoming, when a third urologist approached the duo in 2005 about joining the practice, they happily agreed. “We decided to run a busy two-man practice as a slower three-man practice,” Childs says.
The three doctors now work rotating two-week shifts and then take a week off. They each schedule their surgeries during the first of their two-week shift, so they’ll be available in case a problem arises during the second week, and use their second week to see patients in the office and set up surgeries for two weeks hence. So each week, two doctors are working and one is off. The office also closes at noon on Fridays.
Despite splitting the workload three ways rather than two, the practice has grown so quickly that Childs expects each partner will soon earn as much as he did before adding the third partner. More importantly, he says, “I’m having a blast.” He now has time to take long bike rides, swim—which he never had time to do before—and is looking forward to becoming a champion ski racer within a couple of years. Now, “ski racing is my job and urology is my hobby.”
Of course, with the cut in hours came a drop in income. Childs estimates his income fell about 30 percent the first year, but is now approximately 20 percent less than when he was in Cheyenne. “Now there are three of us in a two-person practice,” he says, adding, “In 2006, I have 18 weeks of vacation, compared to 6 weeks in Cheyenne.”
Many physicians would likely love to be able to make such a claim. Recalibrating the amount of time spent at work and home, or on personal interests, is on the minds of many today.
WORKPLACE FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
Since 9/11, the priorities of many Americans have shifted. For some, the importance of work has declined relative to the importance of family, friends, and other activities. A 50/50 split between time spent at work and time spent at home, once considered a balance, has become outdated. Cali Williams Yost, the author of Work+Life: Finding the Fit that’s Right for You (Berkley Publishing Group, 2004), argues that for doctors, a 50/50 split isn’t realistic. In fact, the percentage of time spent at work has climbed, in some cases dramatically, while time spent outside work has shrunk.
According to the American Medical Association’s Physician Socioeconomic Statistics book, the number of hours physicians spend on patient-care activities has risen in the last 10 years. Some have risen only slightly, as in family practice, which rose from an average of 49.7 hours/week in 1991 to 50.7 hours in 2001, and some more significantly, as in surgery, which increased from 49.6 to 58.2 hours. At the same time, reports the Department of Labor, the number of employees in all fields who work a flexible schedule has dropped, from 29 million in 2001 to 27 million in 2004.
Yet even as work responsibilities increase—or perhaps because they are increasing—physicians today want flexibility to decide for themselves when and where they will work.
Research conducted as part of “When Work Works,” a project funded in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, bears that out. The study finds that 43 percent of employees who don’t currently work any regularly scheduled hours at home would like to be able to. More than 50 percent of older workers (defined as older than 58) would also like to reduce their hours to part-time, but still remain employed, while 24 percent of women and 13 percent of men currently employed full-time would like to go part-time. And new parents who want to spend more time with their babies are increasingly opting out of the workforce altogether for longer periods of time.