As of the 2022 elections, there are fourteen doctors in the United States House of Representatives and four in the Senate [1, 2]. While these numbers represent a decline in the number of physicians in the federal legislative branch over the last few years, , the current makeup of Congress is reflective of the general rarity with which physicians have occupied this position. Consider, for instance, that, of the 2,196 people that held office in Congress between 1960 and 2004, there were only 25 physicians . With such low numbers, it may appear that doctors have not made significant contributions to federal lawmaking; however, as this article will demonstrate, the impact of doctors in Congress has been quite pronounced.
What equips doctors with the ability to make such a strong impact in Congress? For one, physicians can use their expertise in medical issues to make contributions, particularly on health issues, that other congresspeople who have been trained in distinct fields may not be well-equipped to make . For instance, former Senate majority leader and academic transplant surgeon William Frist drew on his experience working on organ transplants to introduce the Organ Donation and Recovery Improvement Act in 2002 . The Act, which directed $25 million towards “efforts to promote organ donation,” was signed into law in 2004 .
Not only do doctors have the skills necessary to analyze scientific data and understand complex medical problems, but they also have the lived experience of working alongside other healthcare practitioners, treating patients, and interacting with medical administration . As a result, they are in a unique position to raise notable issues before Congress and thereby fortifying the country’s national healthcare landscape . In an analysis of physician involvement in parliamentary bodies around the world, Rees and colleagues found that the presence of physician-legislators contributes to a wide range of healthcare topics being debated in such bodies . By having physician voices in Congress, issues such as funding for biomedical research and healthcare systems are more likely to receive their due consideration .
Furthermore, doctors can have a significant impact on Congress due to their credibility. Especially when it comes to healthcare lawmaking, Americans have historically lent great credence to physicians’ perspectives . This is evident from a 2012 poll, in which 90% of the people surveyed accorded physicians with a “fair amount” or even a “great deal” of respect, compared to 48% for business executives and 45% for lawyers . As a result, physicians may play an important role in garnering public support for medical legislation. That being said, public trust in US healthcare and healthcare workers has dropped since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
And, lastly, doctors may have an impact on Congress in line with their other demographic characteristics. Currently, the physicians in Congress tend to be “male, White, older than 55 years, and Republican” . Asian doctors account for only 6% of federal physician-legislators, while there are no African Americans in such a position . Because physician-legislators tend to come from such a narrow subset of the United States population, their activity in Congress may be reflective of their demographic characteristics. Though doctors can bring important perspectives to lawmaking, it is also necessary to have input that is reflective of the population’s voices and interests.
To bolster physician involvement in Congress, organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists run programs meant to help prospective candidates . If doctors enjoyed a more pronounced role in Congress, they could help pass more informed healthcare laws. And, if doctors from a more diverse set of backgrounds were elected, healthcare policy could reflect a broader set of needs and interests. Clearly, physician involvement in Congress has historically been impactful and, in the future, may continue to expand. How this will impact medical legislation in the U.S. is to be seen.
 R. Southwick, “There will be doctors in the House, and a few in the Senate: Election 2022,” Chief Healthcare Executive, Updated November 10, 2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.chiefhealthcareexecutive.com/view/there-will-be-doctors-in-the-house-and-a-few-in-the-senate-election-2022.
 United States Senate, “Physicians in the Senate.” [Online]. Available: https://www.senate.gov/senators/PhysiciansintheSenate.htm.
 D. Pittman, “Wanted: Doctors in Congress,” Politico, Updated June 14, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.politico.com/story/2018/06/14/wanted-doctors-in-congress-594972/.
 B. Powers and S. H. Jain, “Physicians In Congress: A Prescription For Better Health Policy?,” Health Affairs, Updated March 5, 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/forefront.20140305.037591/.
 C. A. Rees, “The ‘Physician-Legislator’: a Comparative Analysis of Physician Membership in National Parliamentary Bodies,” Journal of General Internal Medicine, vol. 37, no. 8, p. 2096-2099, June 2021. [Online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-021-06972-6.
 R. Payerchin, “Physicians among the lawmakers as House struggles over leadership for next Congress,” Medical Economics, Updated January 6, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.medicaleconomics.com/view/physicians-among-the-lawmakers-as-house-struggles-over-leadership-for-next-congress.