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Can Doctors Work Part-Time? (Exploring Medical Career Flexibility)

Can Doctors Work Part-Time? (Exploring Medical Career Flexibility)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

As a doctor or an aspiring doctor, you may be wondering if there are opportunities for part-time work as you strive to balance your professional obligations with your personal life.

In today’s fast-paced world, achieving a work-life balance has become increasingly important.

Doctors in the UK are able to work part-time, whether they’re a fully qualified GP or consultant, or a doctor still in training. GPs and consultants can generally negotiate their own contract hours as desired while a doctor in training can apply for a less than full-time training post.

The good news is that there are indeed options available for doctors seeking part-time or flexible hours.

The NHS Flexible Careers Scheme enables doctors to transition between full-time and part-time work, extend their training over a longer period, adjust their work hours, take career breaks, or gradually wind down before retirement.

This scheme demonstrates the commitment to supporting doctors in finding a work-life balance that fits their needs.

Can You Work Part-Time As A Doctor In The UK?

As a doctor, you can explore various specialties and alternative roles that offer opportunities for part-time or flexible schedules.

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Choosing the path that aligns with your work-life balance goals is an important aspect of maintaining a fulfilling and sustainable career in medicine.

Can You Work Part-Time As A GP?

General practice actually offers some of the greatest work flexibility out of any medical specialty.

GPs often have the option to choose their working hours- this can range from part-time schedules to irregular shifts or even compressed workweeks, allowing doctors to balance their professional responsibilities with personal commitments.

Many general practice positions allow doctors to enter into job-sharing arrangements, where two or more doctors split the responsibilities of a full-time role.

Advances in technology have enabled doctors to provide consultations and medical advice remotely through telemedicine platforms.

This opens up opportunities for GPs to work from home or other locations, reducing the need for constant physical presence at a practice.

GPs can choose to work as a salaried GP, locum GP, or as a GP partner, each of which may offer varying opportunities for part-time or flexible working arrangements.

Can You Work Part-Time As A Consultant?

Part-time or flexible working is also an option for consultants in the UK.

The NHS Flexible Careers Scheme includes doctors at the consultant level, allowing them to reorganise their hours, wind down gradually before retirement, or even return to the NHS after a career break.

This scheme is part of the Improving Working Lives (IWL) initiative aimed at promoting a healthy work-life balance for all NHS staff.

This tailoring of hours could mean fewer days on-site, staggered shifts, or shortened workweeks.

By acknowledging the importance of work-life equilibrium, the NHS recognises that consultants who feel well-rested, mentally rejuvenated, and emotionally fulfilled are likely to deliver better patient care.

Can You Work Part-Time As A Junior Doctor?

The term junior doctor encompasses any doctor who isn’t a fully qualified GP or consultant.

Generally, a junior doctor will be a part of an officially recognised training scheme, progressing them towards either becoming a GP or consultant.

Junior doctors are generally able to work in a part-time capacity in the UK and this is known as Less Than Full Time Training (LTFT).

What Is Less Than Full-Time Training?

Less than full-time training allows you to reduce your hours and extend the length of your overall training time.

The NHS supports flexible working arrangements to enable doctors to move in and out of full-time and part-time work, spread their training over a longer period, and take career breaks.

LTFT allows doctors to undertake their training programme as less than 1 Full Time Equivalent (FTE).

This means that instead of following the conventional full-time training path, you have the option to reduce your working hours as required.

LTFT is designed to keep doctors in training when full-time commitments may not be practical, due to personal circumstances or other factors.

As a doctor pursuing LTFT, you can expect to follow a similar training schedule to full-time doctors, but with reduced hours.

This might also mean that it will take longer to complete your training.

However, this should not be a significant disadvantage, as the intention of LTFT is to maintain a balance between your professional and personal life.

All doctors who are currently training can apply for LTFT, and the application process typically involves just broadly explaining the reasons for your request.

Eligibility Criteria For Working Less Than Full Time

Access to LTFT training generally depends on various individual circumstances, such as:

  • Domestic commitments: This may include childcare or other family responsibilities, which require your attention and make it challenging to work full-time.
  • Disability: If you have a disability that makes it difficult to manage a full-time workload, you will likely be eligible for LTFT.
  • Ill health: If you have a (mental) health condition that prevents you from working full-time, you can apply for LTFT to cater to your health needs.
  • Activities outside of medicine: If you have pursuits outside your medical career that you want to focus on, you may be eligible for LTFT training.

Keep in mind that there is no standard definition of part-time working hours, as it may vary depending on your employer and your specific contract agreement.

Generally, a full-time worker will work around 40 hours a week, with part-time work being fewer hours.

It is crucial to discuss your interest in LTFT training with your employer and understand the specific eligibility criteria in your workplace.

Broadly, the NHS is moving towards a more accommodating approach for trainees requesting LTFT, with some Trusts not requiring doctors to prove any substantive reasons for their request.

However, exact eligibility criteria will always vary depending on job roles and contracts.

Pros And Cons Of Part-Time Medical Practice

Part-time work as a doctor offers some distinct advantages, as well as a few disadvantages, over a full-time commitment.

Benefits Of Part-Time Work

Working part-time as a doctor can have several advantages. For one, it can help reduce burnout.

With fewer hours spent at work, you may have more time to focus on your personal life and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

This can potentially contribute to increased job satisfaction and overall well-being.

In addition, part-time doctors can bring a more diverse range of experiences to their practice.

A patient speaking to a private GP over video
Technology can allow doctors to work part-time remotely

By having time to pursue other interests or even work in different sectors, you can develop skills and insights that could benefit both you and your patients.

Part-time medical practice can also be a flexible option for doctors who are studying, raising a family, or managing other personal commitments.

This flexibility can make the medical profession more attractive to a wider range of people, potentially enriching the diversity and expertise of the field.

Challenges Of Part-Time Work

On the other hand, working part-time in medicine can present some challenges.

It may be difficult to maintain continuity of care for your patients, as they might have to see different doctors when you are not available.

This could lead to fragmented care and potentially hinder effective communication within the medical team.

Financially speaking, part-time doctors can expect to earn less than their full-time counterparts.

This can be a significant concern for some, especially for those with substantial student loans or other financial obligations.

Lastly, part-time medical practice may present professional development hurdles.

With fewer hours spent in clinical practice, you might find it harder to keep up to date with the latest research and advancements in your field.

Additionally, part-time doctors might face limitations in terms of the availability of training opportunities and career progression, as some specialty training positions and senior roles may require a full-time commitment.

How Can You Apply To Work Less Than Full Time As A Doctor?

If you decide that you that do only want to work part-time, I’d begin by researching the specific application process and guidelines for your training programme or employer.

This may involve visiting the website of your training provider or contacting the relevant department for more information.

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary information and prepared any required documentation, submit your application as per the guidelines.

Remember, the timing of your application may be crucial, so ensure you are aware of any deadlines or submission windows.

These often relate to the start of a training year or program, commonly around August.

While applying, make sure to provide detailed information on your reasons for seeking LTFT training, such as personal circumstances or non-medical professional pursuits.

This information will help assessors better understand your situation and make an informed decision.

It is also essential to be transparent about your chosen working patterns and the percentage of full-time hours you wish to work.

After submitting your application, you may need to attend an informal meeting or interview to discuss your needs and requirements.

Do Many UK Doctors Work Part-Time?

There has been a notable shift in the working hours of doctors in recent years.

More and more doctors, ranging from senior consultants to GPs to newly qualified medics, are choosing to work less than full-time.

This trend appears to be growing, making part-time work increasingly common among medical professionals in the UK.

The GMC National Training Surveys have shown that in 2022 17.1% of trainee doctors were working LTFT compared with 9.1% in 2013.

A junior doctor working at a mobile computer on the ward
A junior doctor working in hospital

According to this 2022 study of over 700 doctors, of those not currently working LTFT, 75% expressed an intention to do so in future with lifestyle being the most common reason.

Although, almost half of this group were concerned about the impact on their training.

It’s important to understand that the term “part-time” can be slightly misleading, as doctors who work part-time often still maintain what’s considered a full workweek in other NHS clinical professions.

For instance, a GP working three 12-hour clinical days, with additional admin time, may still work 40 hours per week; comparable to a standard full-time workload.

Impact On The NHS Of Doctors Working Part-Time

The impact of more and more doctors moving to part-time work on the NHS is complex.

On one hand, part-time work can help to address issues of work-life balance, stress, and burnout among doctors, which can ultimately improve patient care.

Additionally, part-time work can help to attract and retain doctors who may not be able to work full-time due to health or caring responsibilities.

However, there are also potential downsides for the health service to the trend of more doctors working part-time.

For example, if there are not enough doctors available to cover full-time positions, this could lead to gaps in service provision and longer waiting times for patients.

Additionally, the cost of training doctors is high, and if doctors are working fewer hours, this could be seen as a waste of resources.

The NHS is already short of thousands of doctors, with approximately 8% of medical posts currently gapped, so with more and more doctors moving to part-time work this has the potential to only worsen the current situation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best medical specialties for part-time work?

Some of the best specialties for part-time work include General Practice, Psychiatry, and Public Health. These specialties often provide more flexibility and predictable working hours than other fields, allowing for a better work-life balance.

Can you study part-time as a medical student?

Studying part-time as a medical student is often challenging due to the time-intensive nature and structured curriculum of medical education. However, some universities may offer part-time options or accommodate students with specific needs for flexibility.

Can surgeons work part-time?

Surgeons can work part-time, although it is comparatively less common due to the demanding nature of the role. Surgeons who choose to work part-time may have fewer responsibilities, procedures, or shifts per week. Part-time surgical work can be found in various settings, from the NHS to academics to private practice.

Final Thoughts

To conclude, the medical profession in the UK offers many opportunities for doctors to work part-time or on flexible schedules.

The NHS Flexible Careers Scheme, Less Than Full Time Training, and job-sharing arrangements are just a few ways doctors can achieve a work-life balance that fits their needs.

While part-time work offers benefits such as reduced burnout and increased diversity of experience, it also presents challenges such as continuity of care and limitations in professional development.

It’s also important to understand the eligibility criteria and application process for part-time work, as well as the potential impact on the NHS.

Ultimately, choosing a path that aligns with your work-life balance goals is crucial to maintaining a fulfilling and sustainable career in medicine.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.