Thursday, September 22, 2011

In defense of mercenary physicians

In the past couple of decades, I wish I'd bought an ounce of silver every time I heard someone pontificating about 'greedy doctors' (usually with an aside about the infernal insurance companies as well).  I'm not here to talk about insurance today---I discussed that some time ago in the context of the fundamental theorem of reaction.  Instead, I'd like to say a few words in defense of medical mercenaries.

We have an unreasonable expectation regarding a lot of the so-called 'helping professions'.  We expect them to be either altruistically motivated or to at least pretend such in public.  However, lets be honest, if only in private on the Internet.  Most doctors, nurses, and educators don't feel a calling to their profession (operationally, we can say someone has a 'calling' if they'd have entered the profession if it paid half or less what it paid when they began).  Instead, they chose it as a way to provide for their families.  They might derive more satisfaction from their job than most other professionals, but their primary motivation is mercenary.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and I shudder to think how difficult it would be to access the level of medical service that we've become accustomed to were we limited to only those with a 'calling'.  Moreover, the physician has something really bad going for him that most other high IQ professionals don't:

He has to spend a lot more time on a daily basis interacting with people with less than average intelligence.

Consider an engineer by contrast.  A lot of engineers have zero contact on a regular basis with anyone less than about a sigma above normal intelligence.  Not so a doctor, and it isn't just lack of intelligence they have to grapple with, they also see a disproportionate amount of dysfunction as well.  I don't envy them that.   To induce me to practice medicine would require considerably more money than I presently earn.  Yes, I have beefs with their national guild bodies, and their overall lack of transparency in business, but that is rarely the fault of the individual physician.  So let us avoid attempting to use the spiked club of expected altruism to beat on our doctors.

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