Sunday, April 19, 2009
Primary care doctors struggling to survive
Dr. Tanyech Walford takes blood from patient Gwendolyn Wood during Wood's check-up on Tuesday. Walford is closing her Beverly Hills practice after struggling to stay financially afloat. Relatively low earnings, rising overhead and overwhelming patient loads are sending veteran physicians into early retirement and driving medical students into better-paying specialties. The morning's last patient, a disabled woman on Medicare, trails her doctor into her office and confides that she doesn't have money for lunch. Tanyech Walford pulls out her billfold and hands her $3. It's money the doctor really doesn't have. "I tell patients I'm broke, and they just chuckle," she said. "They don't believe me."
She hadn't drawn a paycheck for herself since February. On top of that, her practice has cost her $40,000 in personal savings and left her with $15,000 in credit card debt. Walford, 39, also owes $80,000 in medical school loans. She shops at Ross and other discount retailers, and rarely eats out or takes time off. "I'm totally stressed out," Walford said. "How can I take care of my patients when I'm that stressed?" Walford is not alone in her struggle. Relatively low earnings, rising overhead and overwhelming patient loads are sending veteran primary care physicians into early retirement and driving medical students into better-paying specialties, creating what the New England Journal of Medicine recently called a crisis.