Nearly 1 in 2 practicing physicians would retire today if they had the financial means to do, according to physicians polled in the annual survey conducted for The Physicians Foundation and Merritt Hawkins & Associates, a physician search and consulting firm. This number holds for physicians both under and over the age of fifty.

The survey, The Physicians’ Perspective: Medical Practice in 2008, provides the grueling details of what doctors are thinking these days about their profession, their businesses, prospects for the future, and information technology.

The findings are grim. Based on a poll of 12,000 physicians, and open-ended responses from 4,000 doctors, the survey found:

  • 78% of doctors believe there is a currently a shortage of primary care doctors in the U.S.
  • 1 in 2 doctors will reduce the number patients they see in the next 3 years — or will stop practicing altogether
  • Virtually all doctors said the time they devote to non-clinical paperwork in the last three years increased 63% of physicians believe that paperwork has caused them to spend less time per patient
  • 60% of doctors would not recommend medicine as a career to young people.

Combine these statistics with recent studies showing that medical schools are graduating fewer and fewer students who will choose to become primary care doctors – and the future for both physicians and their patients seems uncertain at best.

Most physicians work over 50 hours a week. 38% of doctors work over 60 hours a week.

Reimbursement, managed care hassles, malpractice issues, and government payers and regulations are the factors that make doctors’ professionals lives least satisfying.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: Physicians are too often left out of health reform discussion, yet these professionals are at the front-line of patient care. They determine a majority of health spending in terms of hospital admissions, prescription drug volumes, and medical technology referral and utilization.

An unhappy physician working extended hours, underpaid and underserved by information technology does not yield an optimally productive patient encounter. Let’s keep this in mind as we wax lyrically about the structure of health reform.

The report predicts, “In the years ahead, the condition of America’s primary care doctors as a profession will greatly affect the viability of our nation’s healthcare system.”

It all starts with primary care. Fewer medical students are choosing to work in primary care. They’re not stupid: they’re looking at their mentors in practice and see the pictures portrayed by the thousands of PCPs interviewed in this study. PCPs are the most over-worked, underpaid, and under-resourced physicians in the nation.