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Financial Concerns Deter Medical Students From Becoming Primary Care Physicians



By Catherine Groux
Posted September 24, 2012 11:00 AM

Financial factors sway students from becoming primary care physicians.
Financial factors sway students from becoming primary care physicians.
As the baby boomer generation ages and more Americans purchase health insurance, a growing number of people will need access to primary care physicians. This has led to a national shortage of doctors, as communities across the country are currently in need of about 45,000 additional primary care physicians, The New York Times reports.

While many students earn medical degrees each year, the issue lies in the fact that not enough of these graduates choose to become primary care physicians. In order to discover why people stray away from this field, researchers at North Carolina State University surveyed more than 2,5000 doctoral students at two medical schools between 1993 and 2012. These individuals were interviewed at the beginning of their freshman year and again right before graduation.

The study found that many students decided not to become primary care doctors due to anticipated student debt. Individuals who expected to pay about $104,000 in student loans typically opted to find a job in a medical specialty, while those who thought they would pay less than $94,000 in loans chose to become primary care physicians.

This is due to the fact that medical specialty positions often pay graduates significantly more than primary care physician jobs. According to a study by the Medical Group Management Association, while primary care doctors earn an average of $202,947 per year, specialty physicians can see salaries above $358,000.

"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," said Dr. Lori Foster Thompson, co-author of a paper describing the North Carolina study. "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."

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