Primary Care Physicians’ Experiences With and Adaptations to Time Constraints

Michelle-Linh T. Nguyen, Vlad Honcharov, Dawna Ballard, Shannon Satterwhite, Aoife M. McDermott, Urmimala Sarkar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Importance The primary care workforce shortage is significant and persistent, with organizational and policy leaders urgently seeking interventions to enhance retention and recruitment. Time constraints are a valuable focus for action; however, designing effective interventions requires deeper understanding of how time constraints shape employees’ experiences and outcomes of work.

Objective To examine how time constraints affect primary care physicians’ work experiences and careers.

Design, Setting, and Participants Between May 1, 2021, and September 31, 2022, US-based primary care physicians who trained in family or internal medicine were interviewed. Using qualitative analysis of in-depth interviews, this study examined how participants experience and adapt to time constraints during a typical clinic day, taking account of their professional and personal responsibilities. It also incorporates physicians’ reflections on implications for their careers.

Main Outcomes and Measures Thematic analysis of in-depth interviews and a measure of well-being (American Medical Association Mini-Z survey).

Results Interviews with 25 primary care physicians (14 [56%] female and 11 [44%] male; median [range] age, 43 [34-63] years) practicing in 11 US states were analyzed. Two physicians owned their own practice, whereas the rest worked as employees. The participants represented a wide range of years in practice (range, 1 to ≥21), with 11 participants (44%) in their first 5 years. Physicians described that the structure of their work hours did not match the work that was expected of them. This structural mismatch between time allocation and work expectations created a constant experience of time scarcity. Physicians described having to make tradeoffs between maintaining high-quality patient care and having their work overflow into their personal lives. These experiences led to feelings of guilt, disillusionment, and dissatisfaction. To attempt to sustain long-term careers in primary care, many sought ways to see fewer patients.

Conclusions and Relevance These findings suggest that organizational leaders must align schedules with work expectations for primary care physicians to mitigate physicians’ withdrawal from work as a coping mechanism. Specific strategies are needed to achieve this realignment, including incorporating more slack into schedules and establishing realistic work expectations for physicians.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages11
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Open Access published CC BY (c) authors 2024


  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Primary Care/psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Time Factors
  • Time Pressure
  • United States


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