Approximately 80 billion dollars are spent every year by physicians as a result of their practice of defensive medicine. They order extra tests, do additional procedures, and prescribe superfluous antibiotics. Why would well-trained physicians practice this way? They are hoping that their thoroughness will stave off any potential lawsuits. For most physicians, medicine is more than a vocation; it is a calling.
These highly intelligent people sacrifice the best years of their lives to work 100+ hour weeks at less than minimum wage. Most doctors would tell you that the reason they decided to go through all this time and trouble, at extreme sacrifice on both personal and financial levels, was out of an idealistic intent to help sick people become well.
Having a multiyear apprenticeship in residency training does create physicians who are both competent and confident in their practice of medicine. However, with board certification and yearly re-certifications, on top of the required continuing medical education (CME) courses, and reading scores of articles and journals, the training never really ends.
In fact, the core identity of most physicians is indelibly imprinted with the field of medicine. Unlike many other professions where people can leave their job at work, a doctor is always a doctor (any physician who has answered the call at a restaurant or on an airplane knows exactly what I mean). It is for this reason that physicians are uniquely vulnerable to a medical malpractice lawsuit; in both a literal and a psychological sense.
The long road to become a physician prevents most from getting expertise that would enable them to seek another vocation; few have the skill set to even work as a secretary. And fewer have the ability to work in.another career where they could earn a salary commensurate with their current income. Physicians have committed their lives, and their livelihood, to the practice of medicine. When something like a lawsuit threatens to derail their future in the only profession in which they hilVe skills and passion, they panic; which is understandable since an unfavorable result can do irreparable harm to their career.