ER physicians struggle with another challenge: Huge debts

Emergency room physicians are in demand, but soaring medical education debt has cast some doubts on how well the pipeline will be supplied in the coming years.

A new study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine has concluded that the median debt taken on by an ER doctor in California is now $212,000--higher than the mortgages on many homes. Fifteen years ago, according to the study, the average debt load carried by an ER physician was significantly lower than $150,000. But nearly two-thirds of the doctors surveyed said they were repaying the debt through income-based repayments.

 "The scary thing is that average debt for emergency medicine residents in our program increased by 56 percent in just three years. That pace is unsustainable for most people, even the most committed emergency physician," said lead study author Timothy Young, M.D., of the emergency medicine department at Loma Linda Medical Center in Southern California, in a statement.

The study noted that the debt was influencing some clinical choices for the doctors, such as where they practiced, whether they would accept fellowships, or whether they would moonlight. The study did have some limits,however. It included just 48 ER physicians in California. And more than half of the study participants said their student debt also included undergraduate studies.

But the findings only add to the pressure cooker environment of many hospital ERs, where patient volumes continue to grow due to the Affordable Care Act, and many physicians say they often confront enormous challenges, such as the lack of mental healthcare services for patients who need that kind of care, as well as the looming potential for sudden violence.

To learn more:
- read the study 
- check out the statement