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Study: Future doctors favor lifestyle over money

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CHICAGO, Illinois (Reuters) -- The stereotype of the rich doctor might be due for some surgery.

Mayo Clinic

An increasing number of medical students are picking their specialty based on the lifestyle it permits, including more time to spend with family, rather than such traditional factors as pay and prestige, according to a study published on Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"We're being told essentially that it's not the number of hours or the intensity of the work, it's the ability at the end of the day to close out the work day and go home and be away from professional responsibilities," Gregory Rutecki, one of the study's authors, said.

"The trend may also represent the increasing number of women in the profession," who seek a closer balance between family and professional duties, Rutecki said.

Medical students

The finding points to potential shortages of doctors in specialties such as family practice, surgery, and obstetrics as medical students shun fields where they are required to be on-call during many off hours, the report said.

"We're going to have person-power shortages in the next 10 years in critical areas. Where are the primary care doctors going to come from?" said Rutecki, a physician and professor at Northwestern University.

The report said previous studies also have detected the trend, with students more inclined to select specialties with fewer work hours per week and fewer nights on-call.

Researchers collected six years of data from industry matching programs that direct graduating medical students to hospital residencies in their chosen specialties, with professions offering more defined hours gaining favor.

From 1996 to 2002, the percentage of students surveyed who chose anesthesiology grew to 6.4 percent from 1.1 percent, dermatology was picked by 2.3 percent up from 0.2 percent, and radiology was chosen by 6.1 percent in 2002 versus 3.3 percent in 1996. On the other hand, 9.5 percent chose family practice in 2002 compared to 16.1 percent in 1996, and 7.6 percent chose general surgery versus 10.4 percent six years earlier.

Through the length of the study, 55 percent of students' choices related to lifestyle factors, compared to 9 percent basing their decisions on potential income.

The increasing number of women doctors and general practitioners' loss of decision-making to insurance companies will likely exacerbate the trend, Rutecki said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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