NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Why Are Doctors So Unhappy?

September 2, 2014

Doctors across America are disillusioned with their careers and the medical industry in general. In the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, director of the Heart Failure Program at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, explains this growing, unfortunate trend.

What was once the hallmark of success has become a profession marked by discontent. Jauhar reveals some statistics: 

  • In a 2008 survey of 12,000 doctors, just 6 percent of respondents reported having a "positive" morale.
  • A majority of those surveyed said that they would not recommend becoming a doctor to a friend or family member.
  • The majority of physicians also reported not having enough time to spend with patients. Why? Too much paperwork.
  • Half of those surveyed announced plans to reduce the number of patients they would see over the next few years, if not quit practicing entirely.

What is responsible for this change? Jauhar describes the mid-twentieth century as the "golden age" of American medicine, when life expectancy jumped and the field saw new advancements like the polio vaccine and heart-lung bypass surgery. Doctors set their own fees and hours, and the lack of a massive insurance market meant that they could work with patients on fee arrangements.

The introduction of Medicare in 1965 saw more people seeking medical care, which continued to push doctors' salaries upward. Eventually, people began to perceive doctors as making too much money. Health care spending began to grow faster than the rest of the economy, and concerns about fraud and waste within government health care programs rose. This led to the growth of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) in the 1970s, which brought new controls to curb prices and reviews over the necessity of medical procedures.

With the development of so many new screening options and preventative services, doctors began finding it harder to spend quality time with patients, not to mention the headache that came with a large third-party-payer insurance system. Today, doctors spend $83,000 per year dealing with insurance company paperwork.

As Jauhar explains, physicians began to display less and less satisfaction in their careers. By 2001, almost 60 percent of doctors surveyed said that their enthusiasm for their jobs had fallen during the previous five years. Salaries have also fallen; while the average general practitioner salary was $185,000 in 1970, it was $161,000 in 2010 -- despite, Jauhar points out, that doctors see nearly twice as many patients today as they did in 1970.

For most doctors, says Jauhar, taking care of patients is the best part of their job. He writes that the United States needs to develop a health care system that restores the relationship between doctor and patient -- something that has been lost over the last several decades.

Source: Sandeep Jauhar, "Why Doctors Are Sick of Their Profession," Wall Street Journal, August 29, 2014. 

 

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