05 March 2013

An Interesting Trend in Medical Care

If you're still not convinced, know this: Over the last thirty years, new female M.D.s have sharply increased.  How is this possible given the stagnant total?  Because the number of new male M.D.s dropped like a rock!  New male M.D.s per person are down by over 45%.
In any normal labor market, massive female entry would have led to a large increase in total workers.  But the market for new doctors is anything but normal.  The rise in new female doctors has been almost perfectly offset by a matching fall in new male doctors. 
My point, of course, is not that women have "stolen" men's places in medical school.  My point, rather, is that that draconian government entry barriers are the only credible explanation of the facts.  Why else would the number of male doctors have fallen so far relative to demand?  Infinitely inelastic demand for medical services?  A massive decline in the talent of male applicants to medical school?!

So what causes the increase in female MDs?  I’m not particularly knowledgeable of the day-to-day operations of the medical field, but my guess is the increase of females as a percentage of medical practitioners is probably due to the increased bureaucratization of medicine.  Whenever I go to my GP, the nurse comes in first and basically does a bunch of paperwork (asking basic questions and filling out charts, etc.), then the my doctor comes in and performs an actual exam.  I’ve never been in a hospital for any illness or surgery, but my observation from visiting people in hospitals is that most of the staff exits primarily to take care of filling out charts and handling minor tasks, like refilling IV drips and administering pills.  I’m not trying to make light of this work, but this is very basic work, and should not require that one first go to college for a couple of year to be qualified to do this sort of menial work.  I also note that most of the people who handle these sorts of functions tend to be overwhelmingly female.

I also recall seeing a study that noted that more demanding medical fields (like neurology, surgery, anesthesiology, and oncology, to name a few) tend to be male dominated.  I also recall that medical support fields also tend to be male dominated (like medical tech fields, or pharmaceuticals).  It’s not that there are no females whatsoever in advanced medicine, or in advanced science related to medicine, but that there are relatively fewer females in these fields.  I suspect that this is because, all else being equal, women would prefer to have prestigious-sounding jobs without actually having to do a whole lot to get them and maintain them.  It’s like the women who get a PhD in Women’s Studies.  Yes, they can claim to hold an advanced degree, but the degree itself is basically meaningless.  It’s an empty status symbol.

In like manner, a good number of nurses, and perhaps even doctors are simply empty status positions.  Nurses are often just glorified secretaries and errand boys, doing tasks that doctors can’t be bothered with.  A good number of doctors are nothing more than bureaucrats tasked with rationing health care.  My GP, even though he is nice guy, is often nothing more than a prescription writer for me when I know I need antibiotics.

In medicine, the real money is in tech and drugs.  Medical technology makes doctors and nurses more efficient, and the same is true for drugs.  Because doctors can write scripts and do advanced diagnostics with minimal effort (think x-rays and CT scans vs. prolonged hands-on examinations), they are able to take on more patients and process a larger number of patients in less time.  Their jobs are more menial, since they are more preoccupied with doing paperwork instead of examining patients.  As such, it should not be all that surprising that motivated and intelligent men who are interested in medicine either become surgeons or go into pharmaceuticals and med tech.  It should also not be surprising that more women are going into nursing and becoming doctors.  If, as I assert, medicine is becoming more bureaucratic, then women are still basically functioning as secretaries, only now they are given a title that conveys higher status.

I could, of course, be completely off-track about this.  I try to avoid the medical field as much as possible.  I stay out of hospitals, and almost never visit my doctor, so I could be completely out of touch.  However, this does seem like a possible explanation for why women make up an increasingly larger percentage of the medical profession.