Why Are American Doctors So Damn Expensive?

Sep 15th, 2009 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Medicine

The average American salary overall is about $42,000 a year.

The average family medicine doctor in the United States pulls down about $200,000 a year. The average internist or pediatrician earns about $175,000 a year. A general surgeon earns about $290,000 a year.

In comparison, a primary care physician (comparable to an internist, family doc or pediatrician) in the UK, under the NHS, earns between £53,249 to £80,354, about $90,000 to $130,000 at current currency rates.

The salaries of American doctors are huge, terrifying, for anyone trying to bring down health care costs in the United States. Why are American doctors so damn expensive? Medical school is a big part of the answer.

Per the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the median cost per year (tuition, fees and health insurace) to attend a private medical school in 2008 was a whopping $42,622. Public medical schools were only slightly cheaper, $41,429 for out-of-state and $22,984 for residents.

Add in at least $15,000 a year in living expenses, and the cost of a four-year bachelor’s degree and a newly minted medical student in the United States is easily hauling around three-quarters of a million dollars of debt by time they saunter out with an MD degree. The obligate first job of any medical school graduate is residency, typically a brutal three to five years of work, paying about $40,000 a year.

Running right down the median costs, paying off that $800,000 or so in debt (financed at about 5% a year) over the next thirty years of work eats up about $4300 a month; paying it off in ten years would cost nearly $8500 a month. A pediatrician or internist can expect to make about $14500 a month before tax; paying off this debt over thirty years will cost them about a third of their gross income. About half of that money will go to the financial services industry, in the form of interest.

If you want physician’s salaries to come down in the United States, without a true reduction in physician compensation, the natural choice would be to aggressively subsidize medical education and ensure young doctors come out of school carrying much less debt. A small amount of public investment up front will reduce a massive and ongoing source of inefficiency in the American medical system.

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  1. […] worth considering why American doctors are so expensive, where the costs of drugs and medical devices arise. Healthcare reform is, astonishingly enough […]

  2. Interesting point of view.Thanks for the post. – Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered? – Woody Allen Born 1935

  3. ah americans we got it ass backwards. we allow abled bodies to collect to much on welfare. they cheat the government so badly it hurts everyone. I know a person who is able to collect 8,000 dollars at tax time for just having four children her yearly income is 3,000 dollars. Too many hand outs are given to people who claim they cant work. they are simply refusing to work. We waste to much money on space and war. billions upon billions of dollars are spent in those two worthless catagories. USA buds into everyone business all the time. I have a sister who refused to pay her 515 dollar light bill she went to welfare their going to take care of it for her because she and her husband are arguing the only obligation is for her husband to stay out of the house for 3 months. this is no joke. i dont think outter space is worth it and if we stop fighting we would get attacked in a heart beat. USA has money. The white house spends to much money on the president. the limos, the helicopters, security , room decor, and of course president bushes airforce one was thrown into the corner because it was’nt good enough for president obama. the president going to dinner costs up in the hundreds of thousdands of dollars so and so on. thats why and people just not paying their bills it needs to be compensated by another so they raise the price. sometimes bills go to collections 7 years later they just disapear. i have heard of that a few times by people i have worked with. medicine should be cheap for all.

  4. interesting post,i think it is necessary to make reforms in the american medical system.because american doctors are providing health care services to the people with higher costs.the american government must be try to increase the efficiency of the american medical system and reducing the health care costs.

  5. They are expensive because your medicine school is expensive too. The instructors have high pay salary, your books and other things related to medicine are expensive.

  6. This is so true. I used to be a nursing student and we are in the same building as the med students. When the list of tuition fees are posted in our bulletin board, my eyes rolled to see that their tuition fee is almost triple than ours. That’s the school fees alone. I see a lot of them having those thick books and that costs huge amount of money. We really can’t blame those doctors why they charge a lot.

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  7. I am totally agree with you and the most important thing is that they are taking care of our health it is so important.

  8. “Three quarters of a million dollars”???

    Apparently math was not a part of your education. $42k plus $15k is $57k per year, so four years of med school is $228k. Double that at most to include the undergraduate education and the total remains under half a million.

  9. I think I will just keep stopping on by every now and then to look for new posts.

  10. I am a widow and have been for several years. I am also disabled,but can’t get disability because I can’t afford
    the medical services neccisary to prove that I am disabled. I spent 6.5 years caring for my husband after he
    suffered his first 2 major strokes. He had also experianced 15 minor strokes from working out in the sun during his youth over a 19 year of serving his former church. My husband died after suffering his 3rd major stroke, leaving me totally alone. I don’t have insurance, because I can’t work, and social security has denied me the
    disability insurance I need for medical services. I have been down for nearly 11 years, but without medical proof of my disability, I will die without any hope. I don’t have my own home, I don’t have transpertation, and if it weren’t for my good friend, I would have starved to death in 2010, the same year my husband died..

  11. I believe the 800,000 $ includes interest. My medical school will be well over 220,000 dollars before I even start paying it off.

    Then starts residency. This pay is hardly enough to afford the payments on our loans…. so many defer throughout residency (all the while interest is still adding up).

    I looked back on my statements, I think i have 30,000$ interest already on my loans, and thats only 4 years.

    After 3-4 years residency (minimum), that is alot of interest.

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