We find that despite both professions having significant exposure to COVID-19, dentists favor reopening the country much faster than physicians.
We surveyed 300 to 500 dentists and 300 to 500 physicians on March 18, April 17, and May 15, 2020.
According to our research, support for reopening the economy quicker increases when you lose your income.
Physicians are not in great shape financially either despite what you might think. That said though, financial losses dentists face are fare more severe, and show the complicated trade-offs being made when asked to choose between risk of loss of life and loss of livelihood.
Physician and Dentist Income Losses from COVID-19
For physicians, we are seeing a rapidly increasing number lose a substantial amount of their incomes. However, very few report losing their incomes entirely, even in private practice.
Some surgeons and physicians that perform mostly elective procedures might see income fall a very large amount, but most physicians can still make some revenue via tele-health even if they cannot go into the office and see patients.
In contrast, we’re not seeing the same for dentists, who must go into the office and perform procedures to earn income.
With many dentists ordered to shut down their offices, income losses among dentists have been staggering.
Look at the results showing income loss from our survey of dentists and physicians over March, April, and May and how the numbers have changed.
In May, only 25% of dentists are still earning a similar income to what they were before. This population is also much younger than dentists and physicians overall, so there’s probably an over-representation of public health and military dentists making these numbers look better than they are.
Back in March, physician incomes seemed quite stable except for a few specific specialties. Now we’re seeing academic medical centers cut pay of physicians across the board, with many of these pay cuts announced or in early stages of being announced to take effect in May.
Even so, almost no physicians have lost their income completely.
Physicians Want to Keep the Economic Shutdown, But They’re Beginning to Change Their Minds
At least for now, physicians continue to be very supportive of keeping the economy closed down in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The idea of flattening the curve is to avoid overwhelming the existing healthcare capacity across the country. We seem to have done that for now, but we do not want to risk a resurgence of the virus, which could cause the country to stay shut down even longer.
That said, dentists understand the importance of flattening the curve too. The difference is that physicians have not been financially impacted anywhere close to the plight of dentists.
Here’s physicians views on how fast the country should be reopened according to our May 15 and April 17 survey results.
Dentists Want the Economy Opened Much Faster Because of their Loss of Income
With a huge percentage of dentists earning nothing compared to 1% of physicians, it’s no surprise that dentists have a strong incentive to reopen the country faster.
According to the New York Times, dentists have a higher proximity to others and exposure to disease than physicians do, placing the profession at greater risk on average than physicians.
Despite this greater risk of exposure to COVID-19, dentists want to reopen the country faster anyway. Here’s a summary of the views of our dentist readers.
Less than 10% of physicians said we should reopen the country right away. 26% of dentists now feel this way as of May 2020.
A plurality of physicians said we should keep the economy shut for as long as it takes to preserve public health and lives.
Only about a quarter of dentists felt comfortable with that blanket statement without an end date.
Within Dentistry and Medicine, Does Income Loss Affect Views on Reopening the Economy?
The data below provide further confirmation that dentists and physicians are willing to take more personal risk and public health risk in exchange for less financial harm to themselves personally.
The effect was far more dramatic for dentists compared with physicians.
Notice that 31% of dentists who lost their income completely support reopening the country immediately in mid May. That’s drastically higher than the 6% who felt that way in mid April.
However, what this data supports is:
- Income loss makes you more likely to support reopening the economy as soon as possible, although it doesn’t cause you to be reckless
- Losing your job has a far more powerful impact on wanting to restart the economy sooner compared to just watching your income decline significantly
Remember that the income losses for dentists were from six figures to 0.
The income losses for physicians were from six figures to likely still a six figure number, even if it’s fallen 10% to 50%.
Here’s an example of the kind of sentiment we saw in the survey.
Dentist who lost her job:
It’s the uncertainty about everything that affects me the most. I don’t know how this pandemic will affect dentistry in the future. I worry it has destroyed dentistry as we know it. I worry we will have to see fewer patients and spend more money on overhead and private practices will go out of business
And a physician who saw a large income decrease:
Social distancing and stay at home orders have affected hospital volumes and elective surgeries, which is what makes the system solvent. By cutting these, the healthcare system is losing money in a time it’s expected to step up and be the “hero.” However, now physicians are having to take pay cuts. Many of the ancillary staff are worried about their jobs; and I’m concerned about the aftermath.
Once Doctors Lose Their Jobs Completely, Support for the Economic Shutdown Wanes
Hopefully we will see the curve continue to flatten and new cases continue to go decrease.
That’s certainly something everyone would cheer, as well as having the economy reopen with no threat of COVID-19.
However, that simple choice seems a long way off.
Certainly flattening the curve and social distancing saves lives, possibly including your own. However, the willingness to accept this economic pain falls drastically once you have lost your job completely.
With physicians, we haven’t seen that job loss. With dentists, the financial carnage has created a willingness to accept a huge personal risk.
Here’s to hoping this storm is over for healthcare professionals as soon as possible. And if you have more time on your hands than normal, now is a good time to get a long term plan for student loans.
If you’re a physician or dentist, what are your views about reopening the economy? How fast or slow should we go? Comment below.