TORONTO - More medical students want a better work-life balance when they become practisng physicians, a new survey reports.

In the 2007 National Physician Survey, released Monday, 60 per cent of medical students and 52 per cent of residents said achieving a balance between their work and professional lives will be the most important factor when establishing a fulfilling career in medicine.

"I think the medical students, the medical residents and doctors alike will tell you that a good life-work balance is important in not only maintaining a healthy family, maintaining a healthy physical ability and maintaining a healthy mind, but it's also important in the work you do and the quality of care you deliver to patients," Shaheed Merani, president of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students, told CTV's Canada AM on Monday.

"So I think that the focus that medical students and residents are taking towards their own work-life balance is very important and will result in better care offered to patients across Canada."

Dr. Ruth Wilson, president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, conceded that historically, the medical community has accepted long hours as part of a doctor's life.

"I think one of the mistakes we've made as a medical profession is defining a 60-hour work week as normal and defining 'on-call' as not being work," Wilson said.

"The flip side is there are important demands and important health needs from patients, and those of us who go into medicine to try and make a difference to individuals see those needs and try to work as hard as we can to meet them."

The survey's findings could have an impact on how government, medical schools and professional organizations address current crises in the Canadian health-care sector, including family doctor shortages, particularly in rural areas, and long wait times for various medical procedures.

"Wait times will be further influenced by changing patterns of physician practice," Canadian Medical Association President, Dr. Brian Day, said in a statement.

"While future physicians are part of the solution, the way they want to practice and their priorities must be considered in ongoing efforts to improve timely access."

New doctors themselves will be keen to find ways to streamline their practices so they can spend more time away from work. Technology will help new doctors do this.

According to the survey, 75 per cent of second-year residents want to use electronic medical records (EMRs) as part of their practice. Currently, only one quarter of Canadian physicians use EMRs.

"Electronic medical records, for example, reduce the amount of paperwork and give patients and physicians more time to interact on a one-on-one basis," Merani said.

As well, financial incentives may play an important role in recruiting physicians to underserved rural communities because of the debt load that many new doctors carry as they start their careers.

About 36 per cent of medical students who completed the survey said they anticipate their medical-school-related debt to exceed $80,000. One quarter of residents said they left medical school more than $80,000 in debt.

However, medical students don't start paying off their loans until after they have completed the required two to six years of residency training, which they must do in order to become a practicing physician, said Merani.

"By the time these medical students are paying back their student debts, of almost $100,000 and in some cases even more, they're almost 40 years old, they've started young families, and it is quite burdensome and it is definitely a source of stress to students," Merani said.

The National Physician Survey is the largest survey of physicians and medical students in Canada. It is a joint effort of The College of Family Physicians of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association and The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

For the 2007 edition, 2,800 medical students and 730 second-year residents completed the survey.