Do physicians make the best politicians?

Even though we have probably 20 years of work remaining as physicians, like a lot of you, I like to think about how we will spend our retirement years. After all, in twenty years we will still only be in our early fifties, hopefully with no dependents and a lot of financial security. Of course, my wife and I are interested in traveling, spending time with grandchildren (hopefully), gardening and all of the other leisurely pursuits we enjoy and have largely put off to this point. But unlike my wife, I also have a different kind of interest for my post-medicine life: a second career in politics. (I’m trying to convince my wife that she may have a future as a lobbyist/DC power broker like the sultry Claire Underwood.) At least perhaps we can eat breakfast at Freddy’s BBQ Joint.

Really? Politics?

I have always been engaged politically and interested in the political process, but the idea to run for office someday really came to me on a trip to Washington, DC during residency. I was attending a legislative conference for my specialty and meeting with members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate (and staffers) on behalf of my society. I really enjoyed the trip, though seeing the effect that lobbyists (and particularly monied lobbyists) have on policy was disheartening.

One of the more interesting meetings I had was with a then-junior representative from Michigan named Dan Benishek. Dr. Benishek was a general surgeon in a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who retired from practicing medicine and challenged the incumbent Democrat from his district, eventually garnering a tremendous amount of support and winning his election. I had a few really interesting takeaways from my meeting with Dr. Benishek. He told me that he had essentially never held any political office to that point at either the state or local level. He, like most of us, was a busy clinician until retirement. He became disgruntled with political inaction at the federal level and decided essentially on a whim to run for Congress and was overwhelmed with the support he received. His message was that more physicians should run for political office because the populace in general trusts physicians more than most other candidates. “If you are interested in it, just do it,” he told me. Dr. Benishek served a total of three terms in the House of Representatives before retiring from politics.

Dr. Benishek’s words stuck with me. When I researched the topic further, I found that the number of physicians (three senators and ten representatives currently) elected in both the Senate and House had steadily increased over time. According to research by the AMA, voters rated physician expertise in health care and “understanding of the problems facing our health care industry, including the bureaucratic red tape that is strangling health care providers and driving up the cost of health care for most Americans …” were key factors in their decision to vote for them. Per the AMA, physicians rank highly with voters in terms of honesty and ethics. Indeed, voters are even willing to overlook a lack of political experience because of the perceived benefits of physician candidates.

As the White Coat Investor has pointed out, financial advisors don’t have to take a Hippocratic Oath. Politicians don’t either. Physicians, on the other hand, spend their working lives caring for others and practicing ethically within accepted professional standards. I believe this is great training for a second career spent serving others as a politician. Imagine if all politicians in Congress practiced with the same professional standards and ethical boundaries in which physicians practice?
But what about the long odds?

Congress has 535 voting members (435 Representatives and 100 Senators), compared to a U.S. population of over 300 million.

Certainly, this makes for long odds when it comes to being elected to one of the highest political posts. Political campaigns are taxing and expensive. If elected, there is even more travel and the possibility of spending much of the year away from home.

Of course, these are all concerns for me now as a young professional, but will be much less concerning after a long career in medicine is over and with all of my children out of the house (and financial independence attained). In fact, I am more concerned with failing early retirement due to boredom. After all, there are only so many rounds of golf to be played and microbrews to be consumed. The idea of having a second, invigorating career outside of medicine is exciting to me.

What do you think? Am I crazy for pondering a future in politics or do physicians make the ideal politicians?

The author is an anonymous physician who blogs at physiciancouple.com.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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