Most informed people believe that successful health care reform won’t be possible without more primary care and less of everything else. Unfortunately, that concept has little to do with our present reality. We suffer from a severe shortage of primary care doctors, and it’s only getting worse. Last night NBC news anchor Brian Williams reported on why medical students at the University of Washington — America’s top-ranked primary care medical school — are forgoing primary care careers in record numbers. Ten years ago, 40% of U.W. graduates opted for primary care training. Today, just 13% of students make the same choice.
Williams suggests that maybe it’s a money issue; primary care physicians are said to earn an average of $190,000 per year while a spinal surgeon makes $611,000. Or maybe it’s the intense pressure for today’s primary care doctor to pack their schedules, to prioritize patient volume over quality of care, that makes students say thanks, but no thanks. As one third year U.W. medical student noted, “I wanted to be a family doctor until I realized I wouldn’t be able to take care of patients the way I’d want to.”
In my opinion those are two sides of the same issue. We undervalue primary care — and as a society we pay for it. I’ll write more on this issue in weeks to come, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, check out the NBC video link above for footage of the Harborview Emergency Department, the setting for much of the action in House of Hope and Fear.