September 11, 2008

Shortage Looming of First-Stop Doctors?

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) - Only 2 percent of graduating medical students say they plan to work in primary care internal medicine, raising worries about a looming shortage of the first-stop doctors who used to be the backbone of the American medical system.The results of a new survey being published today suggest more medical students, many of them saddled with debt, are opting for more lucrative specialties.The survey of nearly 1,200 fourth-year students found just 2 percent planned to work in primary care internal medicine. In a similar survey in 1990, the figure was 9 percent.Paperwork, the demands of the chronically sick and the need to bring work home are among the factors pushing young doctors away from careers in primary care, the survey found."I didn't want to fight the insurance companies," said Dr. Jason Shipman, 36, a radiology resident at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., who is carrying $150,000 in student debt.Primary care doctors he met as a student had to "speed to see enough patients to make a reasonable living," Shipman said.Dr. Karen Hauer, of the University of California, San Francisco, the study's lead author, said it's hard work taking care of the chronically ill, the elderly and people with complex diseases - "especially when you're doing it with time pressures and inadequate resources."The salary gap might be another reason. More pay in a particular specialty tends to mean more U.S. medical school graduates fill residencies in those fields at teaching hospitals, Dr. Mark Ebell, of the University of Georgia, found in a separate study.Family medicine had the lowest average salary last year, $186,000, and the lowest share of residency slots filled by U.S. students, 42 percent.Orthopedic surgery paid $436,000, and 94 percent of residency slots were filled by U.S students.Meanwhile, medical school is getting more expensive. The average graduate last year had $140,000 in student debt, up nearly 8 percent from the previous year, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

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