Empty nurses station in a hospital.

The AMA Can Help Fix the Health Care Shortages it Helped Create

By Leah Pierson

Recently, Derek Thompson pointed out in the Atlantic that the U.S. has adopted myriad policies that limit the supply of doctors despite the fact that there aren’t enough. And the maldistribution of physicians — with far too few pursuing primary care or working in rural areas — is arguably an even bigger problem.

The American Medical Association (AMA) bears substantial responsibility for the policies that led to physician shortages. Twenty years ago, the AMA lobbied for reducing the number of medical schools, capping federal funding for residencies, and cutting a quarter of all residency positions. Promoting these policies was a mistake, but an understandable one: the AMA believed an influential report that warned of an impending physician surplus. To its credit, in recent years, the AMA has largely reversed course. For instance, in 2019, the AMA urged Congress to remove the very caps on Medicare-funded residency slots it helped create.

But the AMA has held out in one important respect. It continues to lobby intensely against allowing other clinicians to perform tasks traditionally performed by physicians, commonly called “scope of practice” laws. Indeed, in 2020 and 2021, the AMA touted more advocacy efforts related to scope of practice that it did for any other issue — including COVID-19.

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Medical student textbooks with pencil and multicolor bookmarks and stethoscope isolated on white.

We Need to Evaluate Ethics Curricula

By Leah Pierson

Health professions students are often required to complete training in ethics. But these curricula vary immensely in terms of their stated objectives, time devoted to them, when during training students complete them, who teaches them, content covered, how students are assessed, and instruction model used. Evaluating these curricula on a common set of standards could help make them more effective.

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Pink piggy bank and stethoscope on a gray background.

Medical Schools Need to Do More to Reduce Students’ Debt

By Leah Pierson

Today, the average medical student graduates with more than $215,000 of debt from medical school alone.

The root cause of this problem — rising medical school tuitions — can and must be addressed.

In real dollars, a medical degree costs 750 percent more today than it did seventy years ago, and more than twice as much as it did in 1992. These rising costs are closely linked to rising debt, which has more than quadrupled since 1978 after accounting for inflation.

Debt burdens

Physicians with more debt are more likely to experience to burnout, substance use disorders, and worse mental health. And, as the cost of medical education has risen, the share of medical students hailing from low-income backgrounds has fallen precipitously, compounding inequities in medical education.

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Close up view of graduation hat on dollar banknotes. Tuition fees concept.

Becoming a Bioethicist is Expensive. That’s a Problem.

By Leah Pierson

The financial barriers associated with becoming a bioethicist make the field less accessible, undermining the quality and relevance of bioethics research.

Because the boundaries of the field are poorly defined, credentials often serve as a gatekeeping mechanism. For instance, the recent creation of the Healthcare Ethics Consultant-Certified (HEC-C) program, which “identifies and assesses a national standard for the professional practice of clinical healthcare ethics consulting” is a good idea in theory. But the cost of the exam starts at $495. There is no fee assistance. Given that 99 percent of those who have taken the exam have passed, the exam seems to largely serve as a financial barrier to becoming an ethics consultant.

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BETHESDA, MD - JUNE 29, 2019: NIH NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH sign emblem seal on gateway center entrance building at NIH campus. The NIH is the US's medical research agency.

The NIH Has the Opportunity to Address Research Funding Disparities

By Leah Pierson

The Biden administration plans to greatly increase funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2022, presenting the agency with new opportunities to better align research funding with public health needs.

The NIH has long been criticized for disproportionately devoting its research dollars to the study of conditions that affect a small and advantaged portion of the global population.

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Work-life balance. flat design style minimal vector illustration.

Shortening Medical Training Would Help Trainees Balance Family and Career

By Leah Pierson

In my junior year of college, my pre-medical advisor instructed me to take time off after graduating and before applying to medical school.

I was caught off guard.

At 21, it had already occurred to me that completing four years of medical school, at least three years of residency, several more years of fellowship, and a PhD, would impact my ability to start a family.

I was wary of letting my training expand even further, but this worry felt so vague and distant that I feared expressing it would signal a lack of commitment to my career.

I now see that this worry was well-founded: the length of medical training unnecessarily compromises trainees’ ability to balance their careers with starting families.

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