A new study by economists at Princeton University shows that where a doctor is trained effects the prescriptions he or she writes.
The study focused on opioids, and differences in prescription-writing between graduates of top and bottom-ranked medical schools. Key findings:
- Doctors graduating from lower ranked medical schools write a much larger volume of opioid prescriptions than those from top medical schools.
From 2006 to 2014, “If all general practitioners had prescribed like those from the top-ranked school [Harvard], we would have had 56.5% fewer opioid prescriptions and 8.5% fewer overdose deaths,” said Janet M. Currie, the Henry Putnam Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Currie conducted the study with Molly Schnell, a Princeton Ph.D. candidate in economics.(1)
- Doctors who receive additional training in pain management write fewer opioid prescriptions than their peers.
- Doctors trained in the Caribbean write more opioid prescriptions than foreign-born doctors trained elsewhere outside the US.
- More recent medical graduates are writing fewer opioid prescriptions than are older physicians. That again raises the question of how well some veteran doctors are keeping up with new trends and issues.
A counter-argument is that doctors lack good alternatives to opioids for management of pain.(3) However, according to the Princeton research, many doctors may simply not understand the choices they are making in writing a script or the options that may be available.
Why should the impact of training be limited to opioid prescriptions? Why shouldn’t it impact other treatment and drug choices?
What you need to consider:
The framed degree on your doctor’s wall is more than a decoration. You need to read it. If the degree is from a school with which you are unfamiliar, you need to get a conversation going about what other training he/she has taken. If the answers aren’t suitable, you need to consider finding another doctor.
A list of the top medical schools for primary care is available at
In the 2017 rankings, the top 20 for primary care (there are separate rankings for research, but the focus in this article is on patient care) are (4):
- University of Washington
- University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
- University of California – San Francisco
- Oregon Health and Science University
- University of Michigan
- University of California – Los Angeles
- University of Minnesota
- (tie) Baylor
- (tie) University of Colorado
- (tie) University of Pennsylvania
- (tie) University of Texas, Southwest Medical Center (Dallas)
- University of California – San Diego
- University of Pittsburgh
- (tie) University of Massachusetts – Worchester
- (tie) University of Wisconsin – Madison
- Harvard University
- University of Nebraska
- (tie) University of California – Davis
- University of New Mexico
- East Carolina State University (Brody)
- Molly Schnell, Janet Currie. Addressing the Opioid Epidemic: Is There a Role for Physician Education? NBER, August 2017 DOI: 10.3386/w23645
- Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “Doctors trained at lowest-ranked medical schools prescribe more opioids.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 August 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170814134811.htm>
- Malcolm Thaler, MD, “Why Is Opioid Addiction Happening to So Many of Us?” Live Strong, 29 August 2016. http://www.livestrong.com/article/1012275-opioid-addiction-happening-many-us/?utm_source=aol.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=opioid-addiction-happening-many-us&utm_campaign=AOL-Wellness