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National survey shows few physicians elected to Congress

The politically savvy may be aware that just eight of the current 535 members and four delegates of the 108th Congress are physicians. But a detailed statistical and biographical analysis of Congressional records by Johns Hopkins researchers reveals that since 1960, a total of only 25 physicians have served in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the Senate, just 1.1 percent of 2,196 members whose records were reviewed.

Historically, say the Johns Hopkins investigators, the recent lack of physicians in Congress reflects a major departure from Congressional makeup in the nation's first century, when a much higher percentage of doctors held nationally elected posts. Records show that from 1789 to 1889, 4.6 percent of Congressional seats were held by physicians. Indeed, 10.7 percent of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were medical practitioners.

"There is real irony in our findings," said senior author Thomas Suarez, M.D., director of medical education at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. "Health care issues are increasingly at the forefront of the presidential election debate, national health care spending is at an all-time high of 14 percent of GDP, and a record 45 million Americans lack health insurance. One could argue that the need for medical leadership has never been greater, yet few physicians walk the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., where major decisions are made."

In their study of national office-holders from the last 40 years, to be published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) online Nov. 2, the Hopkins team conducted a review of the Congressional records for background information on every member who served between 1960 and 2004. The base year of 1960 was chosen for its proximity to the establishment of the nation's two largest health benefit programs, Medicare and Medicaid.

Nearly half the members reviewed were lawyers (44.6 percent). Individuals from the business sect
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Contact: David March
dmarch1@jhmi.edu
410-955-1534
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
2-Nov-2004


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