Doctors Need Educations

Doctors Need Educations


Leonard Zwelling

In The Wall Street Journal of Tuesday, April 24, Chris Pope and Tim Rice of the Manhattan Institute put forward an idea that would decrease the cost of health care in the United States. Less educated doctors.

In the article entitled “English Literature Is Not Brain Surgery,” the two scholars suggest that part of the high cost of medicine is the high fees paid to doctors to offset the debt from under which they must emerge after undergraduate and medical school. They say that averages about $195,000 per student. Furthermore, the U.S. is producing fewer doctors per thousand residents than other westernized countries despite having a huge need for more caregivers. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that shortfall to be in excess of 40,000 by 2030. We need more doctors and we need them now.

The basic idea is that since most young people wishing to pursue a career in medicine know this by the time they are eighteen, why not get them on their way to that career earlier as they do in many European countries.

This sounds like a straightforward idea. It isn’t.

I am someone who shortened his own degree program by going to undergraduate school almost year round, graduating three years after I arrived at Duke University. I then was able to go to medical school for five quarters (that sounds funny) per year and finish that in three years and two months, spending the last seven months before my internship as a research fellow in rheumatology. I then short-tracked my oncology training by doing only two years of internal medicine and one of oncology before being eligible for both boards. In essence in ten years, I finished what was supposed to have taken thirteen. Was I on-track for the early senility program?

Was this a good thing?

Well, it did save me and my father a lot of money in tuition and living costs and I was able to earn a small salary by the time I was twenty-five. BUT—and this is a big but—I had a lot of growing up to do and am still catching up on books I have never read, symphonies I have never heard, and foreign languages I cannot speak.

If a young person is absolutely gung-ho to be a doctor and doesn’t want to read a lot of books or stare at art or understand Beethoven, I guess that might be OK. I would rather that person not be my doctor.

In the end, the person who is your doctor at the most critical times of your life has to know more than medicine. He or she must be empathetic, civilized, compassionate and have superb judgment about what to do and what not to do. These skills take time to develop and maturity to employ. A well-rounded education is the first step toward becoming a real physician and healer. There are other ways to fight the high cost of medical care and certainly having young doctors trade service to the nation for tuition is a good deal for everyone.

Shortening education is not the answer. I did it and I don’t recommend it to anyone unless he or she is sure that’s what he or she wants. But then again, what the heck did I know when I was twenty?

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