(HealthDay News) — Physician work hours consistently declined in the past 20 years, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers examined trends in individual physician work hours and their contribution to clinical workforce changes over a 20-year period. The analysis included active US physicians (January 2001 to December 2021) participating in the Current Population Survey (87,297 monthly surveys; 17,599 unique households).

Average weekly work hours for individual physicians declined by 7.6%, from 52.6 to 48.6 hours per week from 2001 to 2021. This trend was driven by decreasing hours among male physicians, particularly fathers (−11.9%), rural physicians (−9.7%), and physicians aged 45 to 54 years (−9.8%). The only significant increase in work hours was seen among physician mothers (3.0%).

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There was a 7% increase seen in the total weekly hours contributed by the physician workforce per 10,000 US residents (13,006 hours in 2001-2003 to 13,920 hours in 2019-2021), compared with 16.6% growth in the US population over the time period.

“Increasing physician retirement combined with a drop in active physicians during the COVID-19 pandemic may further slow growth in physician workforce hours per capita in the United States,” the authors wrote.

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