Is The US Behind Its Own Doctor Crisis?

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Kate Lustgarten, Staff Writer

 

Becoming a doctor shouldn’t be easy. As a matter of fact, I hope it’s difficult. After all, I don’t want to be treated by someone who is anything short of an expert in their field. I would also argue, and assume most people agree, that medical supplies and professionals are crucial. However, in the US, is it too difficult to become a doctor? When considering factors such as the cost and length of medical school, other countries’ protocols in training medical professionals, and the overwhelming deficit of U.S. doctors, I believe that America makes it unnecessarily difficult for people to enter the medical field. 

 

In comparison to other countries in the developed world, the U.S. has the longest, most expensive medical education system. Obviously, a doctor’s education should be extensive, but America’s requirements seem excessive in comparison to those of other countries, especially considering the diminishing number of doctors in comparison to the growing population. In the United States, schooling takes a minimum of 8 years, and often leaves students in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. 

 

While most medical schools in other countries uphold a continuous six year education program, the U.S. requires aspiring doctors to first earn a four year bachelor’s degree before going to medical school for another four years. This is then followed by several years of residency training. This extensive and expensive schooling leaves graduates with anywhere from 200k to over 400k in student loan debt after around 12 years of schooling. This ridiculous amount of money is crippling and restrictive for aspiring doctors; it helps no one aside from debt collectors and banks. 

 

Furthermore, these additional years of schooling give American doctors no advantage in comparison to those of other countries. Due to spending nearly 33% more time in medical school than Swiss doctors, one would assume that American doctors are 33% better than Swiss doctors, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. American doctors don’t outperform Swiss doctors in any noticeable aspect, and if anything, Americans are dying earlier than those in European countries at every age and income level.

 

As for those who do complete their rounds of medical school, many go into specialization fields in order to make more money. However, this leads to there being less available physicians.  

 

So, what does all of this mean? Limiting doctor positions to only those who have a lot of money or are willing to go into severe debt doesn’t leave a lot of people wanting to go through medical school in the US. Additionally, medical school has become increasingly less accessible as competition rises, with more and more people wishing to enroll, but class sizes remaining small. I personally blame the small size of medical school class rooms on the Balanced Budget Act of 1997

 

This act came about after medical groups asserted that America essentially had too many physicians and that medical schools should respond by restricting class sizes. The Act led to significant budget reductions for many institutions and cut major programs and services necessary for medical education. With the government not providing hospitals with as much money, the hospitals can’t take on more residents, and so less people can become doctors. From 1980 to 2005, the U.S. gained around 60 million people, but, because of the Act, the number of medical school matriculants remained the same.

 

Thus, anxiety intensifies for many students who must now consistently achieve incredibly high grades to the extent where many reconsider attempting medical school altogether. This ultimately leaves the U.S. with fewer doctors, as there are currently only two physicians per 1,000 Americans. Fewer doctors means less care and, in turn, drives up the costs of medical services. 

 

Fewer doctors also means longer, extremely brutal shifts. Doctors and residents undergoing 16 hour shifts all while battling burnout is a terrifying normality in U.S. hospitals, and it’s all because there aren’t enough doctors. More doctors means more shift changes, which would prevent the trend of exhausted and overworked physicians.

 

Even after medical school, yet another cost burden American doctors face is malpractice insurance, as patients find more and more reasons to sue their doctors to make up for high costs. Malpractice lawsuits can drag on for an average of four years and doctors must pay for their defense the entire time. These premiums are high and the process is stressful. 

 

Ultimately, America makes it rashly difficult to become a doctor to the extent that it is essentially fueling its own doctor crisis, wherein there’s an alarming shortage of U.S. doctors that in turn limits supplies, drives up prices, and deters Americans from wanting to become doctors at all. I fully believe medical school should be difficult and intense, but medical school in America is too difficult in reference to price, time, and feasibility. The U.S. is essentially driving its own medical crisis and downfall, and it must be fixed before it causes anymore damage.