Why medical students should be taught the business side of medicine

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The field of medicine is always changing. In fact, half of what students learn in medical school will either be wrong or outdated five years after they graduate. As future physicians, medical students must learn to adapt to these changes. In fact, the medical school curriculum itself has evolved greatly over the years. In addition to basic science, pharmacology, and clinical medicine, curriculums now include content on biostatistics, epidemiology, and health systems. Doctors should be knowledgeable regarding all of these content areas since it informs their practice and ultimately helps patients. There is one additional topic, however, that is often neglected in medical education: the business of medicine.

Some may consider it taboo to discuss finances when speaking about medicine. In reality, physicians are one of the highest-earning professions in the United States. In addition, 75 percent of medical students graduate with a median debt of about $200,000. As a result, physicians have no choice but to think about and make decisions based on finances to some extent. The problem is that most physicians are never taught how to do so during medical school. Some medical schools are beginning to recognize this problem and are taking action.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences began implementing a business of medicine course for fourth-year medical students in 2015. The course covers a wide range of topics, including loan repayment options, retirement planning, insurance, and many others. According to their surveys, by the end of the course, students felt more prepared to handle their finances. Students also felt that the business aspects of medicine should be integrated throughout the medical school curriculum. Although most schools offer some sort of personal finance resources, not many have formal coursework in the area.

In the absence of formal coursework, many other schools have interest groups focused on personal finance and the business side of medicine. At my school, our Business in Medicine group has had meetings with financial advisors, a medical malpractice lawyer, and physicians discussing how to manage a private practice. These discussions have helped introduce students to important issues that physicians often encounter, but are not exposed to during their training.

Another possible benefit of financial education for medical students may be improved well-being. There is no denying that physician burnout is a prevalent and important issue facing the medical community. Some studies have estimated rates of burnout to be as high as 80.5 percent. Although there are many factors contributing to the high rate of burnout among physicians, financial issues (e.g., compensation, debt) are often cited among the most common. Physicians commonly graduate with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and many lack a solid plan to eliminate it. This financial burden can, and usually does, contribute to the extreme amount of stress among doctors. One way to address this issue is to educate medical students about personal finance, loans, and repayment options while they are still in medical school. Helping students develop a financial plan that includes efficiently paying off their loans after graduating would allow them to focus more on their training and less on the burden of their debt. In addition, mitigating the stress associated with financial uncertainty may be helpful in encouraging some students to go into primary care.

Ultimately, patient care is at the center of medicine and is the main reason many physicians chose to go into the field. A good understanding of the business side of medicine and personal finance can help future physicians focus on just that. There are plenty of options when it comes to how we can begin to integrate these topics into medical education. There are clear benefits that come with learning these skills, and many students are eager to do so. We need more medical schools to integrate these subjects into their curriculums, and students who are given the opportunity to gain this knowledge can become more well-rounded physicians as a result.

Martinus Megalla is a medical student.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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