RALEIGH, (SGRToday.com) - Research from two North Carolina universities illustrates that a student's financial situation impacts his or her decision on whether or not to become a primary care physician or go into a more lucrative specialty.
Researchers at NC State University, East Carolina University, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York found that higher-paying specialties such as dermatology and radiology are being chosen and primary care is being passed up.
"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, a professor of psychology at N.C. State and co-author of a paper describing the research in a news release. "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."
The study was published online in "Medical Education." Researchers surveyed more than 2,500 medical students attending New York Medical College and the Brody School of Medicine at ECU between 1993 and 2012. Students were surveyed at the beginning of their first year of medical school and just before graduation four years later. The survey asked the students what sort of medical career they planned to pursue, to estimate their final student loans and to rate the value they place on income, according to the news release.
Median income for primary care doctors is just below $200,000 per year. Primary care includes family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.
Median income for a dozen specialities is more than $300,000 per year.
"The other major factor in choosing a primary care career is a service commitment - wanting to help others," said Dr. Dale Newton, a professor of pediatrics at ECU and study co-author, in the release. "Measuring such a commitment in a research setting is very difficult, however."
"If the current efforts at health care reform continue, the incomes of primary care physicians should improve over the next few years," Newton said. "Primary care has to play a major role in the new health care paradigm."
The paper is called "Payback Time: The Association of Debt and Income with Medical Student Career Choice."