From volunteering at a local community hospital in high school to cramming for MCATs to pulling all-nighters in medical school to working 30-hour shifts every fourth night in residency, much of my 26 years has been devoted to medicine.
The pursuit of a career in medicine requires the devotion of a significant amount of time over a seemingly endless stretch. The investment in time and money is unparalleled to that of any other profession. While peers have moved on with their lives, buying homes, raising families, and earning a living commensurate with their education and skill set, a medical resident toils the hospital wards day and night into his thirties for a salary barely equal to minimum hourly wage; struggling with a $150,000 education-related debt. It’s a tremendous sacrifice.
From my earliest days, the opportunity to serve mankind and make a difference practicing medicine has appealed to me. Despite knowing the tremendous road ahead, I deemed the sacrifice worthwhile to pursue such a noble calling. As the dream came to fruition, as patient exam rooms took the place of classrooms, and patients replaced books, my rose-colored glasses confronted reality. Sadly medicine is not the way it ought to be.
Day in and day out, the majority of a physician’s time is spent tending to the whims of regulators and lawyers. Sound science and good medicine have too often been pushed to the backburner to appease unaccountable suits lacking any sort of medical expertise. The doctor has more or less transformed from healer to just another bureaucrat with the patient relegated to a mere after thought. The only intellectualness in the field remains limited to the hit television show “House, M.D.” All the while as doctors become more immersed in red tape, stingy Medicare reimbursement rates force doctors to see more and more patients to maintain the same income.
Obama’s signature on H.R 3590 was no doubt discouraging for all who so ardently opposed it, but opponents were inevitably no match for a president willing to say, do, and give anything to spread his radical prescription. For doctors working long hours in the trenches, this law is especially depressing. We have witnessed first hand Uncle Sam’s bad medicine and how the government is a thorn in the side of patient care. The bill Obama signed into law earlier in the week will only exacerbate these trends.
Much of the ObamaCare aftermath has focused on potential state legal challenges and the electoral implications of the vote. The real issue is who will take care of the patients. And not just the additional patients the law will infuse into the sector, but the patients already in the system. An IBD/TIPP Poll conducted earlier during the health care debate discovered 45 percent of practicing physicians would consider leaving their practice or retiring early if reform passed, as many as 360,000 of the nation’s 800,000 might call it quits.
Clearly not every physician who contemplates leaving the profession will. Many when faced with inevitable pay cuts, increasing bureaucracy, diminishing independence, declining job satisfaction, and patient frustration with longer waits and rationed care, certainly will chose that option. It will squeeze the life out of the profession. Bad for doctors? Absolutely! Ultimately, however, patients suffer the most. While older doctors may simply close shop, a substantial number of the best and brightest young minds will pursue other careers. Abandoning the field to part timers, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants at Wal-Mart clinics and Walgreens pharmacies.
If the progressive vision of ObamaCare survives constitutional challenge and the desire of the electorate, one can only imagine what medicine will become in the next 26 years.
Jason D. Fodeman, M.D., is an internal-medicine resident at the University of Connecticut. A former health-policy fellow at the Heritage Foundation, he is the author of “How to Destroy a Village: What the Clintons Taught a Seventeen Year Old.”