The cost of medical school is constantly mounting for students across the country. In order to repay their debts, students are often drawn to high-paying specialties. This forced financial choice also puts the lower-paying positions in danger, especially the job of primary care physician. In a time when PCPs are being more necessary, this shying away from the career is having long-term negative consequences. The New York Times puts the gap of PCPs at around 45,000. Why such a large number? Because of the financial strain the future generation of physicians are under.
Between 1993 and 2012, 25000 doctoral students were surveyed about their debts. They study found that medical students who were indebted to loans for $104,000 would shy away from primary care and instead go for higher-paying specialties, where their annual earnings could be around $358,000. It was only when the debt was lowered to $94,000 that students considered the PCP field, expecting an annual salary around $202,947.
"We found that students who placed a
premium on high income and students who anticipated having a lot of
student debt were significantly more likely to pursue a high-paying
medical specialty rather than become primary care physicians. This held true even for students who entered medical school
with the goal of becoming primary care physicians - they often switched
to high-paying specialties before graduating." ~Dr. Lori Foster Thompson
How can this problem be addressed and counteracted? Well, one answer is to make salaries comparable, but this does not seem like a realistic solution. Perhaps instead the value of primary care should be emphasized and the non-monetary benefits of the job should be stressed. PCPs get something more than just a paycheck when they connect with patients, becoming the first line of care for the population, but are those benefits enough to outweigh the pay gap? That is a personal decision that each physician has to make.