After-hours on-call: The effect on paediatricians' spouses and families


  • Conflict of interest: None declared.

Correspondence: Dr Ben Wheeler, Department of Women's and Children's Health, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, PO Box 913, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand. Fax: 0064 3474 7817; email:



The after-hours or on-call component of a paediatrician's work has implications for their spouse and family. Little is known about the specifics and extent of this impact. We aimed to understand the potential positive and negative impacts of this important aspect of a paediatrician's work.


The spouses (nine female and one male) of 10 practising paediatricians, who are providing care in a variety of hospital settings within New Zealand, were interviewed using an open-questioning technique. Interviews were analysed by a qualitative line-by-line thematic method in order to categorise the perceived impact of their spouses' on-call work on themselves and their families.


Participants reported multiple effects of after-hours on-call on themselves, their paediatrician partners and their families. Negative themes included sleep deprivation, restrictions on life-style and living location (specifically home proximity to hospital), spousal sacrifice, intimacy and communication challenges, and diminished quality time with children. Positive themes highlighted professional rewards, financial security and adaptability. Themes were consistent across age, length of relationship, spousal occupation and the presence of children. The intensity of these impacts for our participants appeared to vary depending on the degree of marital support and frequency of on-call.


After-hours on-call has a generally negative impact on paediatricians' spouses and families.