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Is the Doctor In? Probably Not As Often

A new Dartmouth study finds U.S. doctors are working fewer hours than they did a decade ago. According to one story:
The study was led by [Dartmouth economics professor Douglas] Staiger, who also is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Dartmouth researchers reviewed U.S. Census Bureau data from 1976-2008. They determined that, though the number of hours doctors spent at hospitals had been “stable at around 55 hours for decades,” in just the past decade the hours physicians spent at hospitals declined by about 7%, from 54.9 hours to 51 hours per week.

Why are doctors working fewer hours? Theories abound, but some evidence points to a generational shift among Generation X and Y medical professionals who demand a better work/life balance than previous generations of doctors. The study revealed doctors under age 45 had a bigger drop in hours worked than doctors over age 45.

Younger doctors are raising small kids, which certainly factors into their priorities. The numbers, however, also indicate Gen X and Gen Y doctors are earning less compared to previous generations of doctors amid staggering levels of student loan debt: The average medical school graduate carried a debt load of $141,751 in 2008. That's a big chunk of paycheck.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) introduced H.R. 1615 Medical Economic Deferment For Students (MEDS) Act last year which would amend the definition of "economic hardship" as written in the Higher Education Act of 1965 to include Federal Family Education Loan or Perkins Loan borrowers who are working full-time and whose student debt burden is at least 20% of their adjusted gross income. The bill appears to be stalled in committee.

So if you want a doctor who's more likely to be in the building, your best bet is to find a doctor over age 45.

You can access the full study here.

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