The Doctors in the House: Examining Physician Legislators in the US Congress from 2011 to 2020

Article: The Doctors in the House: Examining Physician Legislators in the US Congress from 2011 to 2020

Authors: Bharat Kumar, Manish Suneja, Melissa L Swee

Journal: South Med J. 2022 May;115(5):322-327

Objectives: Legislation dictating federal healthcare policy is drafted largely by members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. As such, their personal and professional backgrounds play important roles in setting the national healthcare agenda. We examine the professional and legislative records of the 28 federal physician legislators with voting privileges between 2011 and 2020.

Methods: Two researchers compiled the names of every federal legislator in both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives who served at any time between 2011 and 2020. The researchers used publicly available records to abstract information regarding their professional and legislative records. Data were then analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Results: The majority of the 28 federal physician legislators are Doctor of Medicine graduates (96%), Republican (86%), represent southern states (71%), were in private practice before serving as legislators (78.5%), and have not previously held elected positions as legislators (57%). Approximately 15% of the bills that they sponsor are related to health policy. Obstetrics/Gynecology, Surgery, and Family Medicine are the most common specialties. On average, it takes 25 years from medical school graduation to election to their federal legislative position. Approximately half represent states, or districts within states, in which they attended medical school or completed residency.

Conclusions: To engage in meaningful healthcare policy advocacy, professional organizations must support and encourage leadership training for physicians, increase the geographic and professional diversity of physician legislators, prioritize the election of physicians from both political parties, and inculcate deep and lasting professional relationships to physicians in Congress.

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