Most Med Students to Sidestep Private Practice, but Ortho Residents Seek Independence

If you’re a physician in private practice, there may be very few doctors following in your footsteps, according to results from athenahealth’s 9th annual Epocrates Future Physicians of America Survey.

Among medical students who responded to the survey, 73% said they plan to seek employment through a hospital or large group practice; a mere 10% said they hope to join a private practice, down from 17% the previous year. One reason for the employed practice-setting preference: med students feel their training doesn’t prepare them for the challenges of running a business. Fifty-seven percent expressed dissatisfaction with their education in practice management, and 65% reported feeling unprepared for the exigencies of billing and coding.

When asked about their “top concerns,” 60% of respondents cited a desire for work-life balance as number one. That, along with an apparent aversion to the administrative hassles of private practice, helps explain this year’s findings.

However, when OrthoBuzz asked members of the JBJS Resident Advisory Board to comment on these findings, another side of the story emerged. Daniel Hatch, MD, a fifth-year resident at Penn State Hershey Orthopaedics, said, “I am a huge proponent of private-practice medicine and hope to join a private-practice group when I am done with training, but I too feel the pull toward employed positions with guaranteed high salaries for the first few years and large signing bonuses.  But I am looking for more autonomy and control in the decision-making related to my practice.”

Orrin Franko, MD, a chief resident at UC San Diego, concurred: “Personally, I desire the independence of private practice and do not fear the inevitable challenges I will face by running a business—but I am in the small minority,” he said.  “I have seen first-hand the personal satisfaction, financial success, and independence of private-practice surgeons, and I desire that for myself.  I hope that more of my colleagues feel the same way.  Otherwise, I feel we are at risk of losing control over our specialty to large hospital systems and payors.”

For Benjamin Service, MD, a resident at Orlando Health, the choice is “not simply academic versus private practice versus hospital employed…due to the variation in orthopedic practices.” Dr. Service agrees with the survey’s findings about subpar private-practice preparedness. “US medical schools are severely lacking in educating their students on debt management, finance, asset protection, and practice management,” he said.  “It is obvious that many students would not initially consider private practice due to this gap in our education.”

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