Objectives: Heated debate persists regarding the role of resident moonlighting in emergency medicine (EM). The attitudes of EM residency applicants have not been assessed. The objectives of this study were to assess: 1) the level of educational debt among EM residency applicants, 2) their perception of increased risk potential to patients from unsupervised EM resident practice, and 3) their opposition to laws restricting moonlighting. The authors then report the relationship between the degree of indebtedness and these stated positions.
Methods: Fifty-four EM residency programs returned 393 responses to a 1996 anonymous survey. Applicants recorded: 1) their indebtedness, 2) whether they believed that EDs should hire only physicians who have completed full training in an EM residency, and 3) whether they believed that unsupervised EM practice prior to completing EM training carries a higher risk of adverse patient outcomes. The authors used a t-test and logistic regression to determine whether there was any significant difference in debt between responders who answered yes and those who answered no to the various questions. A p-value < 0.05 was considered significant.
Results: The mean +/- SD debt was $72,290 +/- 48,683 (median $70,000). Most EM applicants (84.8%) agreed that unsupervised medical care by EM residents carries a higher risk of adverse patient outcomes. Paradoxically, only half the applicants opposed a moonlighting ban. Responses did not statistically correlate with educational debt.
Conclusions: Emergency medicine residency applicant debt is large. The EM applicants' opposition to laws that would restrict moonlighting was mixed. This was inconsistent with the majority acknowledging an increased risk potential to patients. Nearly all EM applicants would still select EM as a career, even if moonlighting were to be banned.