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Canadian doctors work fewer hours but still work longer than most

Study examines the impact of physicians working fewer hours than they did 35 years ago
(Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels)

A recently published study says medical doctors in Canada don't work the long hours they used to work. 

Parents and grandparents might remember the days when the doctor made house calls. Those days are over, but Canadian physicians still continue to work longer hours than most Canadians, according to an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).

The study said this information should be taken into account by policy makers and health planners, rather than relying on the actual numbers of qualified physicians.

The study was authored by Boris Kralj, Rabiul Islam and Arthur Sweetman, representing the Department of Economics, Centre for Health Economics & Policy Analysis (CHEPA), and other programs at Hamilton's McMaster University.

They wrote that given reasonable expectations regarding productivity, the medical workforce in Canada likely needs to increase in size to offset the decline in work hours, while gender pay equity in medicine should be addressed. 

They gathered data from Statistics Canada over a period spanning 1987 to 2021 to evaluate trends in physician work hours. 

In the first part of the survey, 1987 to 1991, data showed the average work week for physicians was 52.8 hours. By 2017 to 2021, that work week had decreased to 45.9 hours, said the study.

Diving deeper into the numbers, the study also showed comparisons with males and female physicians, along with married physicians.

The authors wrote that the numbers were close over the years, with male physicians working more than female physicians over a 35-year period, but female physicians increased hours in 2021 the same time that male physicians began decreasing their hours.  

The authors suggested this might be due to more male physicians seeking a better work/life balance.

The study said that even though Canada has more physicians than in the past, citizens are still having a hard time finding a family doctor.

"In absolute terms and adjusted for population, the existing physician supply is considered high (in Canada) compared with previous years, but people in Canada are encountering challenges in accessing physician services," the study said. 

As seen in the United States, current difficulties may not stem from changes in physicians per capita but rather from decreases in physician labour supply, specifically, the number of hours worked per physician and its impact on service availability, the study said.  

The study also suggested that many physicians, having reached a higher income level, have decided to reduce their work hours and take fewer patients.

In conclusion, the authors of the study said the medical workforce in Canada "likely needs to increase in size to offset the decline in work hours." In addition to that, the authors said the pay equity issue involving female physicians needs to be addressed.

The full text of the article can be found online here.


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