Heather Hansen

What’s It Worth to You?

My mom spent her life as a teacher in the public school system. She never talked about her salary, but she was underpaid.

She taught emotionally disturbed high school students in the resource room. Her days were stressful and sometimes dangerous, and yet she was paid far less than my salesman father. It had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with the way we value teachers. We don’t. Are we starting to treat doctors the same way? Medicine, like law, has always been one of those professions where it is assumed that those who practice it are paid well. But is that really the case? It depends.

Whether a medical professional is paid well depends on what type of medicine they practice.

There was a recent survey that shows that not all doctors are doing as well as you might think. Family doctors, or primary care physicians, are in especially bad shape. Of all of the medical specialties, family medicine doctors are on the bottom of the pay scale. These are the people who give us our flu shots, treat our strep throats, and talk to us when we are depressed. They’re the doctors who follow us throughout the course of our lives and our illnesses. They know our history, our strengths and our weaknesses. They spend more time with us than any doctors in any other specialty. And yet they sit at the bottom of a list that has cardiologists and orthopedists at the top. Is a new hip or a new heart valve more important than overall physical, emotional and even spiritual health?

These overall health concerns have always been a family doctor’s arena. They deal with the entire person, instead of specific parts. That includes dealing with emotional illness. Suicide rates have been rising since 1999. If a person is thinking of killing herself, a beta blocker or a new knee aren’t going to do her much good. Why are pediatricians and family doctors are on the bottom of the pay scale? The answers are complicated, just as they are when we ask the same questions about teachers. And, just like with teachers, we risk losing the good ones to better paying jobs.

Family medicine doctors are becoming extinct, just when we need them most.

Fewer and fewer medical students are choosing to become family doctors, and older ones are retiring. At the same time, the population continues to grow and we will need 52,000 new primary care doctors by 2025. That’s a problem. How do we fix it? One third of primary care doctors are still paying off their student debt when they are in their 40s, and they have less and less time with their patients and more and more pressure to see more patients. While that worries us that it might be impossible to make the job appealing, it can be done and one way is to appreciate them for what they do. For most of these doctors, their work is a calling. They do it for the patients, and not for the money.

That which you focus on will grow.

What are we focusing on when it comes to our medical care and our doctors?

I represented a family medicine doctor who wanted nothing more than to help his patients and make enough to support his family while she did so. He was in his late 50s and had come to America to be a doctor. After years of providing care for the people in his small Pennsylvania community, he had his first lawsuit. After a very long and stressful trial, the jury found in favor of my client and they wanted to talk to him when the case was over. Every single one of them commented on how much time the doctor spent with the patient and how caring he was. My doctor filled up with tears when the jury said he wasn’t negligent. He told me the case, from start to finish, had been the most stressful experience of his life. As he packed his things to return to his patients, he urged me to get more magnesium. “It is one of the most important things you can do for your health.” Encouraging and valuing our physicians, especially family medicine doctors, is another.

Heather Hansen

Subscribe to Heather’s newsletter, connect with her on social media or purchase one of her books.