NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Barriers to Entering Medical Specialties

Sean Nicholson

NBER Working Paper No. 9649
Issued in April 2003
NBER Program(s):   HC

Non-primary care physicians earn considerably more than primary care physicians in the United States. I examine a number of explanations for the persistent high rates of return to medical specialization and conclude that barriers to entry may be creating an economic shortage of non-primary care physicians. I estimate that medical students would be willing to pay teaching hospitals to obtain residency positions in dermatology, general surgery, orthopedic surgery, and radiology rather than receiving the mean residents' salary of $34,000. In the simulation, the quantity of residents in these four specialties would increase by an estimated six to 30 percent, rates of return would fall substantially, and teaching hospitals would save an estimated $0.6 to $1.0 billion per year in labor costs.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w9649

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