NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Physicians Wanted

May 6, 2004

The average medical student graduates with a debt of more than $100,000, notes economist Thomas Sowell. Medical school may no longer look like a good investment to potential students because of the bureaucratic hassles that doctors have to go through. Furthermore, drug prices aren't the only thing that is controlled in countries that have nationalized their health care industries: physician compensation is also controlled.

Britain, which has had government-run medical care for more than half a century, has to import doctors from the Third World, where medical school standards are lower.

As long as there are warm bodies with "M.D." after their names, there is no decline in supply of physicians, as far as politicians are concerned. Only the patients will find out, the hard way, what declining quality means.

There is evidence that fewer Americans are interested in medical careers.

According to David Blumenthal, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine:

  • The number of applicants to medical school peaked at nearly 47,000 for the academic year 1996-1997, but fell to 33,625 in 2002-2003.
  • This is below the 1982-1983 level of 35,720.
  • This decline means that there are now just 1.9 applicants for each medical-school place, down from 2.7 in 1996-1997 and 2.1 in 1982-1983.

Given that domestic physician supply is limited by the number of residencies, foreign-trained doctors undoubtedly will make up an increasing share of physicians.

Source: David Blumenthal, "New Steam from an Old Cauldron - The Physician-Supply Debate," New England Journal of Medicine, April 22, 2004; Thomas Sowell (Hoover Institution), "The 'Cost' of Medical Care,", May 4, 2004.


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