The Net Present Value and Other Economic Implications of a Medical Career

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College graduates’ career choices are driven by a complex mixture of factors, one of which is economics. The author comments on the report by Marcu and colleagues in this issue, which focuses strictly on the economics of this decision. Specifically, Marcu and colleagues modeled career choices as long-term financial investments in human capital, which consists of the knowledge and clinical skills physicians gain in undergraduate and graduate medical education. They distill the numerous factors that shape the economics of career choice into a commonly used criterion for long-term financial investments of any kind—namely, the so-called net present value (NPV) of the investment. For them, that investment is the decision to pursue a medical career rather than the next best nonmedical, alternative career. This NPV calculation determines the increase or decrease in wealth, relative to that of the next best alternative career, that a college graduate is thought to experience as of the moment she or he enters medical school simply by choosing a medical career rather than the next best alternative. Marcu and colleagues use this human capital model to explore how different plans to finance a medical school education impact the NPV, all other parameters being equal. The author of this Commentary explains in layman’s terms how the NPV is calculated and then raises a number of other issues concerning the economics of a medical career, including medical school tuition, residents’ salaries, and investments in human capital as tax deductible.

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