US Doctors Are Overeducated

US medical students study for 8 years prior to residency, compared to 5-6 years of study in the rest of the world. This discrepancy increases health care costs by $25 Billion annually without contributing to quality.

In the UK, medical students study for five years after high school before beginning residency. They can expect to become practicing doctors by their late 20’s. This is true in Australia as well, where it’s possible to become a practicing doctor after less than 10 years of post-secondary education.

In much of Europe, medical students study for 4-6 years before beginning vocational training, and this process is slowly being standardized throughout the EU. Finally, in Japan, Brazil, China, India, and many other countries, medical education involves a 5-6 year degree followed by optional specialty training.

Since medical students in the US have a career path two years longer than in most other countries, their initial salary requirements must inevitably be higher to compensate for two years of extra tuition and lost salary. Using a career ROI calculation, it’s possible to estimate that US doctors must be paid an additional $30,000 per year as a result of this additional schooling [1]. With roughly 800,000 physicians in the US, that amounts to $25 Billion per year in additional compensation!

Why does the US stand almost alone in requiring aspiring doctors to study for eight years before training for another 3-8 years prior to practicing medicine? Is it possible that American doctors are better at their profession as a result? In fact, a small number of accelerated six-year medical programs exist in the US, and these programs have extremely competitive admissions. In a 6 year program, typical Bachelors-level general college education is curtailed while still accommodating a full four years of medical school. This model should become the norm rather than the exception, enabling medical students to enter careers more quickly and with less, thereby saving the entire health care system money!

[1] Using the spreadsheet used to perform Career ROI calculations, we can first adjust the medical student’s career path to shorten it by two years. This will raise the NPV and rate of return. We can then lower the expected salary to the point that the NPV is equivalent to the original NPV – the difference in salary is the salary amount made necessary by the extra schooling.

2 thoughts on “US Doctors Are Overeducated

  1. This article doesn’t answer questions for me. I’ve been hearing for decades that the cost of an American doctor’s education is so heavily funded by Tertiary Education Subsidization that they no longer come out of training heavily in debt. So why is there a need for their rates to continue to climb to “pay off their educationa debts.” In fact the reason for the Tertiary subsidization was to create more diversity among doctors so that they could better relate to patients and they to them, but article after article has stated that this form of subsidization has failed its purpose. What I can’t find anywhere is what the average cost of a medical education is and what portion of that is paid for with tax dollars. That is information that could empower consumers.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. My father, a retired surgeon, earned his M.D. in Canada, where he grew up. Canadians graduate high school at 17, and he needed only to take 2 years of pre-med before enrolling in medical school. So he became a resident at 23 (debt-free). He had a great time learning and traveling, feeling no pressure to settle down to the serious business of earning money.

    Medical school graduates in the US typically have a huge student debt load and seem to feel they are owed the oversized salaries that have become the norm, while wanting to work less. Society (namely you and me, the taxpayers) pays an enormous and unsustainable price for it.

    As a healthcare consultant with graduate degrees in medical physiology and medical information science, I’ve also noticed that the extra education doesn’t equate to better diagnostic skills. Medical care typically isn’t based on scientific evidence or in-depth knowledge of pathophysiology–it’s the result of knee-jerk diagnoses and personal biases physicians-in-training learn from their attendings. While this isn’t always the case, it’s more the rule than the exception!

    Gillian Hubble

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