The average medical school student accumulates about $160,000 in debt for tuition and living expenses over four years. Primary care doctors are well paid, earning $120,000 to $170,000 per year. But physicians in subspecialty practices often earn more than $500,000 per year.
U.S. medical school graduates reject primary care because subspecialty training leads to higher compensation and is perceived as a more prestigious career. Some reject it because of its very difficult work — investigating and discovering the main problems for a patient, coordinating care and managing the follow-up and recovery phases.
The main rationale behind the increased access and cost control ideals expressed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is that “patients with access to quality primary care are more likely to remain healthy and prevent costly and distressing chronic diseases.”
To control cost, we must prevent and manage chronic disease. The nation’s health and economic strength depends on improving the health care system. Seventy-five percent of every health care dollar spent in the U.S. is for treatment of patients with one or more chronic diseases.
Improvements in the quality of outcomes are focused on making sure we provide preventive care and better coordination of care for patients with chronic disease. All these are critical primary care roles.
I am a family physician. It was the right career choice for me. Family medicine is challenging, but rewarding. It is a privilege to care for people, getting to know them over time, becoming a part of their family and life experiences. I think that every citizen of Georgia should be getting accessible, holistic, patient-centered care that is built on a primary care foundation. Payment reform will be critical to attracting more physicians into primary care practices.
Dr. William F. Bina is dean of the Mercer University School of Medicine.