Is there a doctor in the house? . . . Or the Senate? Physicians in US Congress, 1960-2004

JAMA. 2004 Nov 3;292(17):2125-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.292.17.2125.


Context: The legislative and fiscal influences of Congress, as well as the continuing overall growth in health care spending as a portion of the gross domestic product, make congressional representation by physicians important because physicians have unique expertise in the impact of legislation on patient care and medical practice.

Objectives: To describe physician representation in the US Congress between 1960 and 2004 and relate the results to past representation of physicians in Congress.

Design and setting: A retrospective observational study of members of the US Congress from all 50 states and all represented territories, who served from January 1960 to April 2004 (including 108th Congress), using data available in public access databases and congressional biographical records.

Main outcome measures: Physician representation in Congress, including occupation before taking office, state/territory of representation, sex, party affiliation, and time served.

Results: During the past 44 years, 25 (1.1%) of 2196 members of Congress were physicians. Physicians in Congress were more likely to be members of the Republican Party (60% vs 45.1% of all members, P = .007) and were similar to other members of Congress in mean years of service (9.2 years for physicians vs 12.3 years for all members, P = .09) and in sex distribution (4.0% female physicians vs 6.8% all female members, P = .57). Physicians in Congress represented 17 states, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

Conclusions: Physician representation in Congress is low and is in stark contrast with physician roles during the first century of the United States. However, the 8 physicians currently serving in Congress may be indicative of a shift toward more direct influence of physicians in national politics.

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy*
  • Legislation as Topic
  • Occupations
  • Physician's Role*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Policy Making*
  • Politics*
  • Public Policy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States