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What good old days? You're $1.35 an hour better off today.

Fam Pract Manag. 2007;14(7):10

A little data about the average member of the Academy: “He works an 11-hour day, 300 days a year, and sees 25 patients each working day.” Does that sound right? “He … spends 28 days every year attending postgraduate courses, medical meetings and hospital staff conferences.” (Really? 28 days?) “The average member's annual gross income is $20,800 … " Wait. $20,800? What academy is this?

Actually, it's the American Academy of General Practice (AAGP) in 1950, according to highlights of survey data published in GP, the predecessor to American Family Physician.1 Unfortunately, the actual survey report is lost, but the glimpses of 1950 practice in the article are intriguing.

It's difficult and risky to make direct then-and-now comparisons, but it sure is tempting. Those 300 eleven-hour workdays per year work out to 50 six-day weeks, 3,300 hours per year and 7,500 patient visits. According to current AAFP data, the average member now works about 2,378 hours per year – 922 fewer. During that time he (or she; there's another difference) sees about 5,660 patients in various settings – 1,840 fewer.

More: In 1950, 14 percent of Academy members did not provide OB care; now that figure is 71.7 percent. In 1950, 22 percent did no surgery; now it's 69.6 percent. In 1950, 97 percent of members had hospital affiliations; now that figure has dropped to 81.7 percent. Now 91.2 percent of members are Medicare participating physicians. Then … no Medicare.

But what about that $20,800 gross income? AAFP survey data put the 2004 average gross income of AAFP members at $143,600. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics online inflation calculator, $20,800 in 1950 had the buying power of $163,034 in 2004. So in real terms, the average AAGP member in 1950 apparently made more than the average AAFP member in 2004 — but only because of the longer hours. At 3,300 hours a year, the average AAGP member grossed $6.30 an hour. The 2004 average works out to about $60 an hour, or $7.65 an hour in 1950 dollars. You're $1.35 ahead on an hourly basis. That's 21 percent. Now, don't you feel better?

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