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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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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hands on keyboard of laptop computer.

How Preclinical Medical Students Have Embraced Advocacy Amid Virtual Education

By Tarika Srinivasan

On February 28th, 2020, after an hour of incessantly refreshing my email inbox, I received an acceptance letter to my dream medical school. That same day, a conference in the city I would soon call home became the superspreader nexus from which up to 300,000 COVID-19 infections have been traced.

The ensuing months, which were meant to be an exercise in pomp and circumstance, were marked by a steady stream of anxiety, frustration, and disappointment associated with virtual learning.

As first-year medical students, it is hard not to feel that we comprise the bottom rung of a long, rigid hierarchy. We are fully aware of the limited role we play in this pandemic; we lack the useful clinical skills of a final-year medical student or an employed resident. Our presence in the hospital is more of a liability than an asset.

We witnessed classes of fourth-years graduating early to serve on the front-lines of the spring first wave (though reception to this call of duty ranged from appreciation to apprehension). We imagined that in a few short years, we too might be deemed so “essential” that folks would be clamoring to have us serve on the wards.

But, despite our limited skills, we preclinical students decided we could not simply wait in the wings for our cue. Though we were dedicated to the didactic portion of our curriculum, we were itching to be involved in the action. Thus, we sought to expand the scope of what medical students could do during a pandemic.

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How Medicine Learns About the Law

By Nadia N. Sawicki

Many medical providers learn about the law the way kids learn about sex – whispers with friends, internet message boards, and media depictions of the most dramatic and unrealistic kind. And while both medical schools and junior high schools offer some type of formal education, it is quite limited, especially as compared to the information these students collect through other, less reputable, sources. As a result, many medical providers go into practice with a dark cloud over their heads – the “scared straight” model of legal education, if you will.

We’ve heard a lot about the practice of defensive medicine – ordering more tests and procedures than are medically necessary in an effort to protect oneself from potential liability. But fear of liability manifests itself in other, less dramatic, ways as well – for example, in overly-restrictive interpretations of HIPAA requirements that make it difficult for patients and their care providers to access needed medical information. In reality, however, much of the fear of liability experienced by medical professionals is unfounded.

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