The Social Preferences of Future Physicians
DateSep 1st, 2017
Read time 20 minutes
We measure the social preferences of a sample of US medical students and compare their preferences with those of the general population sampled in the American Life Panel (ALP). We also compare the medical students with a subsample of highly educated, wealthy ALP subjects as well as elite law school students and undergraduate students.
We further associate the heterogeneity in social preferences within medical students to the tier ranking of their medical schools and their expected specialty choice. Our experimental design allows us to rigorously distinguish altruism from preferences regarding equality–efficiency tradeoffs and accurately measure both at the individual level rather than pooling data or assuming homogeneity across subjects.
This is particularly informative, because the subjects in our sample display widely heterogeneous social preferences in terms of both their altruism and equality–efficiency tradeoffs.
We find that medical students are substantially less altruistic and more efficiency focused than the average American. Furthermore, medical students attending the top-ranked medical schools are less altruistic than those attending lower-ranked schools.
We further show that the social preferences of those attending top-ranked medical schools are statistically indistinguishable from the preferences of a sample of elite law school students.
The key limitation of this study is that our experimental measures of social preferences have not yet been externally validated against actual physician practice behaviors. Pending this future research, we probed the predictive validity of our experimental measures of social preferences by showing that the medical students choosing higherpaying medical specialties are less altruistic than those choosing lower-paying specialties.