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Can inactive physicians be lured back to work?

WASHINGTON -- The availability of part time work and flexible scheduling could entice older and inactive physicians to reenter the workforce, a recent survey found.

This in turn could offer a partial solution to the nation's shortage of primary care physicians, who make up about 50% of this cohort.

"We really need to do a much better job of creating an environment that's much more flexible," Ethan Alexander Jewett said at a physician workforce research conference that was sponsored by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

"When we lose these folks, we've lost the investment that we've made in medical education. And in an era when we have a physician shortage, we could be reabsorbing that investment and the expertise of these physicians," both on a long-term basis or as needed in times of crisis.

However, he cautioned that reentering physicians will need support from employers and medical societies, given that 38% of them have not practiced medicine in 5-10 years, and 24% haven't practiced in longer than 10.

From January to March 2008, Mr. Jewett surveyed 4,975 physicians who were younger than age 65 years and who were listed as inactive in the American Medical Association's files. "Inactive" was defined as those who no longer practice, teach, research, or administer medicine.

A total of 1,520 physicians responded. Of these, 500 were truly inactive, about half of them were women. Primary care physicians comprised roughly half of this inactive group. Just over a quarter (27%) of the whole group were inactive in medicine but working in another field.

A total of 436 physicians were in fact retired--also half women. And 584 physicians were, despite their status with the AMA, currently active in medicine. This category included only about 40% women, said Mr. Jewett, a policy analyst at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

When asked what would make them return to the workplace, 58% of women and 42% of men said that the availability of flexible, part-time scheduling would be the "number one driver," Mr. Jewett said.

About 50% of the inactive physicians surveyed said that they had already explored the possibility of reentering the medical workforce. Mr. Jewett pointed out that his survey took place before the recession, so even more physicians may now be seeking to reenter the workforce.

He did not report any disclosures related to his presentation.

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Title Annotation:PRACTICE TRENDS
Author:Napoli, Denise
Publication:Family Practice News
Date:Jun 15, 2009
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