News & Commentary

Pediatricians’ Careers Influenced by Debt

Mean educational debt for pediatricians-in-training increased 34 percent from 2006 to 2010, from $104,000 to $139,000, and that may be pointing some of those doctors to a career as a primary care physician or a hospitalist.

A study in the journal Pediatrics looked at graduating resident surveys from 2006 through 2010 that were generated by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

It found that nearly 3 in 4 pediatricians have educational debt when they leave residency, and more than a third are in excess of $155,000 in debt.

“Graduating residents with higher debt are more likely to have a future clinical practice goal that does not require additional training” such as primary care or hospitalist, rather than enroll in a fellowship program to study subspecialties such as neonatal perinatal medicine, pediatric cardiology, and pediatric hemato­logy-oncology.

The graduates might be eager to get out in the world and start paying off their debt.

“Continued increases in debt might result in serious hardships for young pediatricians,” the study states. “Anticipated debt might discourage qualified individuals from pursuing a career in medicine or pursuing fellowship training in the future.”

The study has many quantifiers, as the authors admit that the connection between debt and the career decisions young doctors make needs further exploration.

“These findings need to be considered in the context of a complex set of issues related to the pediatric workforce,” says the study. “Although debt is clearly rising and our data show a relationship between debt and career choice (higher debt seems to be associated with a push toward primary care or hospitalist practice), we have not observed an increase in the percentage of pediatric residents pursuing primary care careers.”


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