The Lengthy Workweek: How Many Hours Physicians Really Work

Healthcare industry
HR Tips


Ever wondered how many hours doctors really work each week? It’s more than just a demanding job; it's a lifestyle. Physicians, from surgeons to primary care doctors, often work long hours, sometimes reaching up to 60 hours per week or more. This intense workweek can lead to burnout, affecting their career satisfaction and overall job satisfaction.

Extended work hours aren’t just numbers—they impact doctors’ mental health and the quality of patient care. Understanding these challenges can help us appreciate the dedication of our healthcare providers and the need for better work-life balance initiatives.

The Reality of Physician Work Hours

Typical Workweek for Physicians

Physicians often work long hours. The average weekly hour work for a physician can range from 50 to 60 hours, according to the AMA. This demanding schedule can impact both their personal and professional lives.

Data from AMA and AMA Insurance

AMA Insurance reports that physicians typically work around 55 hours per week. These long hours can lead to physician burnout, affecting their job satisfaction and overall career satisfaction.

Comparing Specialties

Different specialties have varying workloads. Surgeons, for example, often have the longest hours due to the nature of their job. Residency programs are also notorious for their demanding schedules. Hospital physicians generally have more structured hours but still face significant workloads.

Physicians’ extensive work hours underscore the need for better work-life balance solutions in the healthcare field. Understanding these demands helps us appreciate the dedication of our healthcare providers.

Impact on Career Satisfaction and Burnout

How Extended Work Hours Lead to Burnout

Physicians often face extended work hours, which can be as high as 80 hours per week, especially during residency. This relentless schedule is a key factor in physician burnout. Long work hours leave little time for rest and recovery, leading to physical and mental exhaustion. Studies show that doctors working over 60 hours a week are more likely to experience burnout symptoms.

Effects on Career and Job Satisfaction

Burnout significantly impacts career satisfaction. Physicians experiencing burnout report lower job satisfaction and a reduced sense of accomplishment. A primary care physician, for example, may struggle to maintain continuity of care due to exhaustion. The American Medical Association statistics highlight that nearly 50% of physicians report feeling burned out.

Real-World Examples and Statistics

  • Surgeons often face the highest burnout rates due to intense weekly hours and high-stress surgical demands.
  • Residency programs contribute significantly to burnout. Residents working 80-hour weeks report high levels of stress and low job satisfaction.
  • AMA Insurance data indicates that physicians with better work-life balance report higher job satisfaction and lower burnout rates.

Addressing these issues is crucial for maintaining a healthy, effective medical workforce.

Graduate Medical Education and Residency

Demands of Graduate Medical Education

Graduate medical education is rigorous. During this period, new doctors, known as residents, undergo intensive training. They work long hours to gain hands-on experience and develop their skills. This training is essential but comes with a heavy workload.

Workload and Weekly Hours

Residents often work an average of 80 hours per week. These work hours can include overnight shifts and weekend duties. The high number of weekly work hours is crucial for training but can lead to fatigue and stress.

Challenges in Early Career Stages

The early stages of a physician's career are marked by several challenges. Balancing clinical duties with studying for board exams, maintaining continuity of care, and adapting to the demanding work schedule can be overwhelming. Maintaining a work-life balance is often difficult, leading to high levels of stress and burnout. This demanding phase is a critical period that shapes the future career paths of physicians.

Specialty-Specific Work Hours

Surgeons and Their Demanding Schedule

Surgeons often face some of the longest work hours in medicine. They can work up to 60 hours per week, with many additional hours spent on-call for emergencies. Their workweek involves intense patient care and high-stakes surgical procedures, which can be mentally and physically exhausting.

Comparing Specialties

Different medical specialties have varying work hour expectations. For instance, primary care physicians might work a standard 40-50 hours per week, focusing on patient care and follow-ups. In contrast, a residency program for an aspiring surgeon can involve 80-hour weeks, especially in their early years.

Patient Care Responsibilities

The nature of patient care also varies by specialty. Surgeons must handle both scheduled surgeries and emergency cases, often requiring them to stay late or come in on weekends. Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants usually have more predictable hours but still manage a heavy workload of patient consultations and continuity of care.

Varying Expectations Across Fields

While surgical specialties demand rigorous hours, other fields like dermatology or pathology may offer more balanced schedules. This variety highlights the diverse career satisfaction levels and the potential for burnout. Recognizing these differences is crucial for anyone considering a career in medicine, as it can significantly impact work-life balance and overall job satisfaction.

Direct Primary Care: A Different Approach

What is Direct Primary Care?

Direct Primary Care (DPC) is a healthcare model where patients pay a monthly fee directly to their primary care physician. This fee covers most primary care services, including consultations, basic lab tests, and preventive care, without the need for insurance.

Balancing Work Hours

DPC offers physicians a more balanced workload compared to traditional practices. Instead of managing high patient volumes to meet insurance requirements, DPC doctors have fewer patients, allowing for more personalized care. This model can significantly reduce the number of work hours per week, easing physician burnout and improving work-life balance.

Benefits for Physicians and Patients

In a DPC model, doctors can spend more time with each patient, enhancing the quality of care. This approach also increases job satisfaction for physicians by reducing administrative tasks and providing more control over their schedules. Patients benefit from improved continuity of care and stronger doctor-patient relationships, leading to better health outcomes.

Strategies for Managing Workload

Practical Tips for Physicians

Managing a heavy workload is crucial for avoiding burnout. Here are some practical strategies:

  • Set Boundaries: Limit work hours per week and prioritize personal time.
  • Delegate Tasks: Utilize nurse practitioners and physician assistants for routine tasks.
  • Time Management: Schedule breaks and stick to a structured workweek.

Hospital and Healthcare Initiatives

Hospitals and healthcare organizations are implementing programs to support work-life balance:

  • Flexible Schedules: Offering flexible work hours to accommodate personal needs.
  • Support Programs: Providing access to mental health resources and wellness programs.

Policies to Reduce Excessive Work Hours

Several policies and programs aim to reduce excessive work hours:

  • Residency Program Reforms: Limiting weekly hours worked for residents to ensure adequate rest.
  • Continuity of Care Models: Encouraging primary care physicians to adopt models that promote balanced workloads.

By adopting these strategies and initiatives, physicians can improve job satisfaction and provide better patient care.


Physician work hours significantly impact both career satisfaction and patient care. Long workweeks can lead to burnout, affecting doctors' well-being and their ability to provide quality care. It's crucial to address these work hour issues to improve job satisfaction and ensure better patient outcomes.

Addressing these challenges requires further research and policy changes. Initiatives to balance work hours can enhance continuity of care and support the healthcare workforce. We must prioritize the well-being of our doctors to maintain a robust and effective healthcare system.


Welcome to Decent: a new kind of health plan.

Join our monthly newsletter to stay in the know!