A survey of more than 2,500 medical students
revealed that students concerned with high debt and lower income were more likely to switch from a primary care specialty to a higher-paying medical specialty between their first and fourth years of medical school. Primary care practitioners include internal medicine specialists, pediatricians and family practitioners.
On average, primary care physicians earn approximately $200,000 per year. Although this is a significant income, doctors in the 12 highest-paying specialties, which include radiology and anesthesiology, make an average of just under $400,000 per year. In 2010, the average medical school debt upon graduation was $158,000 with 30 percent of surveyed graduates having in excess of $200,000 in student debt after graduation.
It is easier to pay back the equivalent of a mortgage on a higher-paying salary so students concerned with the six-figure debt load are more likely to choose a higher paying medical specialty. This could pose problems for the health of the nation.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts a 63,000 doctor shortage by 2015 with primary care physician positions making up the majority of these shortages. To make matters worse, the population of the country and the world is aging.
According to the United Nations Population Fund
, by 2050 one in five people, approximately two billion individuals, in developing countries will be over the age of 60. The population of over-60s will be greater than the population of those under age 15.
In the United States
, where the primary care physician shortage is of immediate concern, 26.6 percent of the population will be over 60 by 2050, up from 19.1 percent this year. The increase is greater for the over 80 population. This year approximately 3.8 percent of the population is over the age of 80 but by 2050, this figure will jump to 7.9 percent.
The year 2050 is still decades away but the aging population shift is already happening. As more baby boomers retire, demand for medical services will increase. With fewer medical students choosing the important primary care fields, this will put a strain on the entire system.