Doctor Parties*

And I’m not only talking about cocktail parties.

Recently, a small group of us primary care docs were talking politics. The Orlando shooting has our hackles up through the roof. It boggles our collective physician minds that such an obvious and proven public health hazard as semiautomatic weapons cannot be legislated by our paralyzed government; that the overwhelming evidence in support of gun control provided by the rest of the developed and civilized world is being overtly ignored; that the selfish views of a few are allowed to put the rest of us in danger…

As we lamented the ideological gridlock in our government, and even more so the bizarre, ridiculous, laughable Republican presidential candidate, we realized that someone in the back of the room had quietly gotten up and left.

“Oh,” one of us whispered. “I think she may be a Republican.”

“No!” we all gasped.

As it turns out, it was just a nasty rumor. But it got me thinking…

It is very difficult for me to imagine that anyone who has dedicated their lives to the healing of other human beings, who has achieved the highest levels of education and endured years of exhausting training, and who regularly interacts with the sick and suffering, could possibly agree with or support many of the views espoused by the right.

I don’t get it.

So I researched it. Who among us physicians leans conservative?

This graph popped right up:

Political leanings of physicians, by medical specialty and income.

This data was compiled by Crowdpac (independent and non-partisan resource for American policy change) and originally published in a 2015 article by Greg Dworkin.

Look at the trend:

All specialties that make lots of money, i.e. mostly surgical subspecialties, lean politically right.

All specialties that make the least amount of money, i.e. mostly primary care and pediatric specialties, lean politically left. (**I am aware the “least amount of money” is a relative term. These incomes are substantially higher than what the majority of Americans are able to earn. I am thankful for what I have, and recognize that it is far more than most.)

This data is fascinating. What explains it?

Do conservative medical trainees veer towards the higher-paying careers, while bleeding-heart liberal ones choose with their… bleeding hearts?

I doubt any of us primary care docs say, “Hey, I never wanted to make a ton of money, so I’ll just choose from amongst the lowest-paying of all the different doctor things I can do.”

And I knew going into this what I was in for, as far as income. I was an honors medical student, and a few of my mentors openly grimaced or even warned me away from primary care, citing things like, “It’ll take you forever to pay off your loans!” or “Why would you choose that, when you could choose anything?”

At the time, it just felt like primary care was addressing the root cause of most medical problems, really getting to the nitty-gritty, and addressing the “whole person”, not just an organ or a body part. It made more sense to me. It still does. (And yes, it will take me forever to pay off my med school loans.)

But I would also hope that no one says, “I’m going for orthopedic surgery so I can make TONS of money.” I would rather believe that these folks have a real driving passion for surgery, and it’s just coincidental that they also enjoy the higher incomes.

But then, what explains the consistent conservative leaning of all of the higher-paying specialties?

I don’t have the answers here, but I find the whole thing very interesting, and I invite hypotheses/ commentary.


*I usually refrain from political rants. However, in light of recent events, I. Just. Can’t.

5 thoughts on “Doctor Parties*”

  • It’s my sense that many (perhaps most) of my local colleagues assume we’re all Republicans. My partners all share my political views and I don’t discuss politics with anyone else at work.

    The other demographic that I’d be interested to see in that graph would be sex. The disciplines on the lower left have a lot more women than the disciplines on the upper right. Those relationships are complex. Income disparity in medicine has widened in the last 30-40 years, with the specialties that have a relatively higher number of women becoming both lower status and lower pay. I have been told the same thing has happened to lawyers – there’s a “pink ghetto” there, too. And in the US women are more likely to vote Democratic regardless of profession.

    • Good stuff- I thought about the traditionally female preponderance in those lower left categories as well. I think that you are correct when you say the explanations behind this stark graph are likely pretty complex…

  • Funny, the graph doesn’t even go far enough to the left to show my income…
    I am not the least bit surprised. This falls directly along the lines of what I saw in medical school with my friends.

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