I’m not quite sure what to think about this from the WSJ: “As Doctors Get a Life, Strains Show“.
The new generation of doctors doesn’t like being on call. The young ones are going to jobs where they can clock in at 8am, clock out at 5pm, and turn their pagers off when they’re off duty.
That means a woman giving birth is less likely to have her regular obstretician do the delivery. The baby could come when her doctor is off duty. Or the doctor who handled your case one day may not be the one who deals with you when you come back with complications. It requires good recordkeeping such that information can be handed off from one doctor to another.
Maybe it’s just a continuation of the trends of the industrial era. Doctors are becoming more like factory assembly line workers, and patients are becoming more like cars on an assembly line. It’s no longer a matter of craftsmanship. It’s now all a matter of routine procedure and interchangeable parts. It’s probably what we’ll get anyway, with nationalized health care.
One thing the article didn’t point out is that this trend is not restricted just to the medical profession.
I had noticed it myself among ecology researchers. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the place where I work was humming day and night. There would be grad students and post docs working in the labs at all hours of the day. Some people practically lived there, and I was there myself during a lot of odd hours.
True, those who calculated how much of that time was spent actually working found that they weren’t working quite as many hours as they thought. For example, there were the long hallway conversations that we all felt free to indulge in, because we were working all the time anyway. Those who took the trouble to keep track found that yes, they were working a lot of hours — certainly more than 40 — but not anything like the 80 or 100 hours a week that they seemed to be working.
But then I noticed a change with newer cohorts of grad students. One could look out the window and see a grad student with golf clubs in the parking lot. Our director would predict that it would turn out badly, and I’d give my friends a hard time for indulging in bourgeoise activities like golf. These people were working more or less normal hours. They were spending evenings at home with their families. Amazingly enough, they were going on to have successful careers, even though the buildings weren’t humming day and night like they used to.
I’ve read in Perspectives, a publication of the American Historical Association, that it’s the same way in the history profession. The older faculty members need to be reminded that it’s not like the 70s when grad students would slave away for long hours with little or no pay.
I’ve been told recently that there still is a little tension between the older faculty members and grad students at my workplace over how much time the younger ones are devoting to their work. It’s not quite like the conflicts described in the WSJ article, where some of the older practitioners feel they’re having to pick up the slack for the younger ones who aren’t willing to give up their family lives for their work. But there is a little bit of generational conflict.
It’s an interesting phenomenon. I’ve seen enough that I don’t think I can predict with any confidence just how well or poorly this new trend is going to work.