In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not a family physician. I never aspired to be one – I wanted to be a superhero as a kid. When I got older, I realized that all the best ones (like Spider-Man and Superman) spent their non-costumed hours as newspaper reporters or photographers, so I decided to go into that line of work instead. It eventually led me to the Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians, where in between writing press releases and editing issues of Keystone Physician, I’m knitting a cape and cowl underneath my desk.
No, I was never bitten by a radioactive spider or blasted by a gamma ray, so the ability to make a perfectly-shaped omelet represents the extent of my superpowers. And while I’ll never be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound or shoot electricity from my fingertips, that’s all right. No one can (at least not yet). Yet, there are people who embody the principles the superheroes of my youth stood for, who work tirelessly to ensure the safety and comfort of their citizens, who know that utter chaos would be at hand if they didn’t work tirelessly for others. They’re called family physicians.
Why am I telling you something you already know? Because although I’ve been blessed to spend every single day of my life so far under the care of the same family doctor, although I’ve always maintained a trust in and reverence for the amazing work he does, not everyone has the same childlike sense of awe and wonder at the feats that family physicians routinely accomplish. Maybe they’ve lived free of any medical condition more serious than a sniffle. Maybe their relationship with their family doctor is no stronger than my relationship with the pizza delivery guy. Maybe they don’t regularly see a primary care physician. The point? They’re not convinced that family medicine is heroic, or something they should be concerned with.
“Why should I care about family medicine?” they wonder. “It doesn’t affect me!”
Yes, it does. It affects everyone. And if we can’t get them to care about their own personal health, maybe they’ll care about their wallets and pocketbooks instead. The economic impact of office-based physicians cannot be underestimated or understated, especially in Pennsylvania, which ranks fifth out of all 50 states in number of physicians, output, jobs, wages and benefits, and taxes.
Just take a look at some of the statistics. According to a recent study by the Lewin Group, our commonwealth employs nearly 30,000 physicians, generating $44.7 billion in total state-level output per year. That’s more than the combined worth of media mogul Rupert Murdoch; financier George Soros; Facebook creator Mark Zuckerburg; and Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who played a much more handsome Zuckerberg in that Facebook movie.
Let’s talk about jobs. While the United States is having a hard time making them and keeping them, office-based physicians aren’t. The industry supports 4 million jobs – that means one in every 78 Americans is employed by it, and one in every 75 Pennsylvanians. Moreover, that 1.3 percent of Pennsylvania’s population works for an industry that generates 2.3 percent of Pennsylvania’s tax revenue – $1.9 billion. In total wages and benefits, the commonwealth’s office-based physicians generate $28.3 billion. For that kind of money, you could buy the McDonald’s corporation (with a 2010 revenue of $24.1 billion) and still have enough cash left over to buy every single Major League Baseball team – yes, even Alex Rodriguez (but do you really want him?).
I’m not a numbers guy, but you have to appreciate the enormity of the economic impact. Consider this: The federally budgeted military expenditure for the U.S. Department of Defense in the 2010 fiscal year, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled around $680 billion. In the same year, office-based physicians generated a $1.4 trillion dollar footprint. In other words, the yearly economic output from office-based physicians could pay for the U.S. defense budget twice!
Even in spite of all those mind-boggling figures, I still prefer looking at my family doctor as a superhero. I could never do what he does or know what he knows. For some people, that’s not a compelling argument. So next time you’re trying to convince a cynic of the importance of family medicine, throw out the Superman talk and draw a different parallel – take Bruce Wayne, for instance, the billionaire economic force and philanthropist whose true calling is putting on the cape and saving lives.
Bryan D. Peach is Manager of Media and Public Relations, Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians and Foundation.
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