Jasminka Criley, MD, FACP, FHM
CEO and Co-Founder
Indelible Learning
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Editorial Board Member
Physician’s Weekly

There are more than 1 million licensed physicians in the United States and the District of Columbia. Voting can be one of the most powerful social determinants of health. Our ability to lead healthy lives is affected not only by healthcare, but by health and public health policies. Even so, it appears that physicians vote less than general population.

In 2007, Grande and colleagues reported that physicians who were eligible to vote voted about 9% less than lawyers and the general population. They performed a cross-sectional survey of 350,870 participants from 1996-2002, including 1,274 physicians and 1,886 lawyers.

A more recent analysis showed that voter participation among eligible physicians in California, New York, and Texas was 14% lower than that of general population during 2006-2018.

Another study, “Analysis of Reported Voting Behaviors of US Physicians, 2000-2020,” published in January 2022, notes that the physicians’ voter engagement may have improved in recent years. The analysis showed that pooled physician voter turnout was lower than that of the general population. However, individual election results showed that physicians had similar voter turnout as the general population in the 2018 midterm elections and higher turnout than the general population in the 2020 Presidential Election.

Elected officials respond to the preferences of voters, not non-voters.

Even if there is a trend in recent years of increased physicians’ civic participation and voting habits, there are still some commonly cited obstacles to participating more.

The reasons are many and possibly depend on the stage at which physicians are in their career. Medical students and trainees are busy with work. The recent paper “Barriers to Voting in 2020 Among Resident Physicians” reported that time was the most commonly cited barrier to voting (61%), followed by psychological barriers (23%, perception that one’s vote does not count), logistical hurdles (14%, when or where to vote), and voter registration (4%). Multiple barriers were cited by 26%.

Faculty and practicing physicians have similar issues with long hours and available time. Additional logistical barriers might include not knowing where to register or where to vote. During their education, training, and career, physicians might be changing locations often. As a result, it might be logistically hard to know where to vote or where to register. Additional psychological barriers include not wanting to appear “political” and viewing civic engagement as something not “compatible” with unbiased practice of medicine.

How to Support Increased Civic Participation Among Physicians?

We can start by addressing logistical barriers, as such:

  1. Pre-Voting
    1. Register to Vote
    2. Find Locations where you can vote
    3. Study candidates and what they support
    4. Discuss with friends and colleagues or do your own research if things are not clear in regard to logistics, candidates, or policies.
    5. Preparing to vote takes planning. Preparing to vote takes time.
  1. Voting
    1. Vote early
    2. Vote by mail-in ballot (absentee ballot).
    3. Vote early in the day before work or late in the day after work (make sure polls are open). Allow more time before or after work to go to the polls.
    4. Vote on a day off.
    5. For training programs. attendings could help trainees by offering to hold their pagers/phones while they vote, if polling sites are close and if long absence would not interfere with duty hours, limitations, and sometimes complex scheduling.

Addressing psychological barriers can include the following:

  1. Talk about voting with colleagues at work. That can encourage them to consider, and then actually, voting.
  2. Support each other by offering to help and letting each other go and vote.
  3. Normalize voting and civic engagement independent of personal beliefs and politics.
  4. Keep it non-partisan.
  5. Be tolerant to others’ beliefs.
  6. Start early: create civic engagement habits by educating children, students, and patients early in their lives, so that civic engagement is a durable habit.