One of the many complaints lodged by medical malpractice tort reformists is that doctors are fleeing the practice of medicine because of their fear of “frivolous” medical malpractice lawsuits. The fear-mongers warn that there will soon be not enough doctors in the United States because doctors’ fear of medical malpractice claims will outweigh their investment in years of medical school learning and years of medical training after graduating from medical school, and the result will be that they will choose another profession or abandon their medical practices.
One question we have for these well-financed and powerful lobbyists is what are these fleeing doctors going to do — will they simply retire (even if they are young and may still be paying off their medical school bills) or are they headed to more lucrative endeavors such as…what? Since physicians’ incomes average in the 90th to 95th percentile for the incomes of all Americans, what other highly-paid jobs are they going to find, especially in this economy? The few that do retire and point to medical malpractice claims as the reason for their leaving their medical practices often have many other reasons for leaving medicine unrelated to medical malpractice claims, such as sickness (either the medical care provider or a family member), burn-out (after years of keeping up with medical advances, attending required medical continuing education courses, putting in long hours at work, and doing the same thing day-after-day, many are ready to try something new, or to do nothing at all), a mid-life crisis (am I going to spend the rest of my life grabbing a patient and asking him to cough?), or another life milestone such as the retirement of a spouse.
Would you have confidence in a medical provider who is willing to give up his practice, abandon his profession, and change his lifestyle simply because he is paying a medical malpractice insurance premium that that he thinks is too high? (Would you be willing to cancel your health insurance coverage for your family and risk your family’s health simply because you consider the monthly premium higher than what you think it should be?) Why do doctors complain so much that they should not be held responsible for their own negligence (which means that the medical care they provided, or failed to provide, fell below the standard of care established by their own colleagues) and that the patients they negligently injured should not be compensated for their permanent injuries and life-long losses, as determined by independent, unbiased jurors chosen from their own communities? What’s unfair or un-American about holding people responsible for the injuries they cause to innocent others because of their wrongdoing?
In any event, U.S. medical schools still enjoy massive competition for the spots they have available for incoming students. In 2006, there were a total of 15,927 graduates from all U.S. medical schools. By 2010, that number had increased to 16,838. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of women who graduated from U. S. medical schools had increased from 7,748 to 8,133; the number of men who graduated from U.S. medical schools increased from 8,179 to 8,705. Source
If newly-minted doctors in the U.S. feared medical malpractice claims or were deciding on careers other than medicine because of the risk of being sued for medical negligence, one would expect that the numbers of medical school graduates in the U.S. would reflect a downward spiral; instead, more doctors are graduating from medical school.
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