Associates: Thinking about part time? Use these questions to map out a plan


You're a dedicated doctor. You spent eight years preparing for and enduring veterinary medical school. For the past six years as an associate, you've lived your dream.

You're a dedicated doctor. You spent eight years preparing for and enduring veterinary medical school. For the past six years as an associate, you've lived your dream.

But now you're thinking about starting a family. And starting a family means pregnancy. And once the baby's here, you'll want to be there.

Or maybe you want to compete in an adventure race. It'll require training 20 or more hours a week for the next two years to get ready. But you're committed to this wonderful profession and want to continue practicing—just not the 55 hours a week you've been putting in since you graduated.

What do you do? How do you ask your employer for a change? Should you quit your job and return to work part-time in a year or two, perhaps in another clinic? These are questions many young doctors face. While there certainly isn't a strategy that will work for everyone, arranging part-time employment may work for you. Answer the following questions to help you develop a route to success.

  • Why do you want to work part time? If you're thinking of going part time in this profession, you'd better have a good reason. Too often veterinarians simply feel tired or burnt out and think that working less will solve the problem. Unfortunately, simply reducing your hours isn't likely to change your attitude; it just means you'll dislike your work for fewer hours a week.

If you're sketchy about why you want to cut back, part-time work probably isn't the right solution for your dilemma. Life balance issues aren't always about the lack of time. They're often about the life itself.

You've spent a lot of time, energy, and money pursuing a spot in the veterinary profession. So check your motivations out before you check out of practice.

  • How much time? Before you drop the "I want to reduce my hours" bomb on your boss, determine what specifically you're asking for. Do you need to work fewer hours, fewer days, or both? Do you want to work three days a week instead of five-and-a-half? Six hours a day instead of 10 hours a day?

Know what you need and what you can offer before discussing this with your boss, and then be flexible. Your ideal schedule may not meet the real demands of the practice, but there's usually room for an arrangement that will work for both of you.

  • Do you have a plan? Face it, reducing your hours is another headache your employer doesn't want to deal with. Before you dump this idea on your boss, get creative. Anticipate the challenges and be prepared to offer solutions during your negotiation for fewer hours.

Explain how the transition will work and how you'll handle any potential problems. Explain how you'll maintain productivity even though you're working fewer hours. Put your proposal in writing to prove that you're serious and that you've given your plan careful consideration. If your employer sees that you're committed to making this work, you're much more likely to get what you need—and to succeed after you make the transition.

  • What do others think? Once you and your boss have agreed on the terms of your part-time employment, have a meeting with the team to talk about why you're cutting back, what your job duties and hours will be, and how you plan to handle any challenges. Ask team members for their thoughts and any potential obstacles. Communicating openly and honestly shows your respect for the rest of the team, and the upfront meeting helps demonstrate that your boss supports the change.

Practicing part time could be a good situation for you and for the hospital team members. So think through your options, develop a thoughtful plan, and bring up the issue with your employer. If you don't, you'll never know whether you could have had everything you wanted.

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