Behind the List with Dr. Barbara E. Ostrov
vice chairwoman of the department of pediatrics and pediatrician-in-chief at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital
Q: What drew you to this field?
A: I had very severe skin allergies (as a child), and I saw a lot of doctors. My father said from (age) 9 or 10 I was going to be a doctor and I was always going to be a pediatrician. I always liked to take care of kids, work with kids and volunteer at children's hospitals.
I trained actually in internal medicine and pediatrics, and I trained in rheumatology, which is caring for people with arthritis and auto-immune diseases like lupus. I came to Hershey in 1991 and started the pediatric rheumatology program here. There was nobody taking care of kids with arthritis between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia in 1991. Pediatric rheumatology is a small specialty; even today, there are only 270 (specialists) in the United States.
Describe your average day.
I would have to describe my week because every day is different. For instance, this week, I saw patients all day Monday. On Tuesday, I had meetings in the morning and drove to Scranton for a two-hour meeting to discuss with the pediatricians at Moses Taylor Hospital about our impending development of their pediatric hospitalists program that we've been working with them on. Today (Wednesday), I went to an education session with residents and students, and I've been working on different meetings. I will go to our family advisory council meeting tonight, which is where we have parents that are advising the children's hospital on things that work well, things that don't work well.
Thursday, I'm leading the retreat for 140 people of the entire children's hospital. We'll have a two-part retreat to develop our strategic plan for 2014 through 2016. On Friday, I will be in different administrative meetings talking about budgets, talking about new hires that we want to bring in for some of our divisions that still need faculty.
What factors do you think contribute to the salaries for doctors in specialized fields being higher than some other professions?
I think one of the things that is maybe a misconception is the salaries, really, are variable depending on what type of doctor someone is. If you are a general pediatrician who has just finished your training in pediatrics and just became a board-certified pediatrician, the salary may be $125,000 or $130,000 a year. That's probably not so far off from, say, an engineer who has that many years of training, a principal of a school or a superintendent of a school system. But, if you're a brain surgeon, a neurosurgeon, the salary may be significantly higher.
People who become doctors go to, mostly, four years of college, four years of medical school, a minimum of three years of residency, and then if they become board-specialized, it's usually a minimum of three additional years before they're actually in practice. ... By the time I got my first real job where I was making a real salary, I was 34 years old. A typical intern back when I was an intern, which was 1983, I worked 120 hours a week, and I made $19,000 a year. The other thing is I had $40,000 in loans to pay back. It took 10 years to pay all that back.
It's a lot of training, it's a lot of years working for a very little amount of money for that many hours a week, and people's lives are in your hands. It's a very important kind of job we do, and it requires many years of training and experience. All physicians are close to 30 or in their mid-30s by the time they have their first real job.
The other thing about the salaries has to do with a limited commodity. For example, pediatric neurology is a highly sought-after specialty (for) kids with chronic headaches, kids who aren't doing well in school, kids who aren't developing properly, and kids with seizures or epilepsy. Many of these kinds of kids are referred to pediatric neurologists, and there are not enough pediatric neurologists in the country to address (the concerns). You get into — like in any business area — supply and demand.
How much education debt are medical students incurring today?
At Penn State, if you are a Pennsylvania resident, I think the tuition is around $40,000 a year, and that's four years. You have your rent, your food and all that, and you're not earning any money while you're doing this. There is research that suggests this sometimes influences people's choices in specialties because, as I mentioned, the salaries are different for different specialties. If you're coming out of medical school with $200,000 in debt and chose a specialty at the lower end of the salary range, it's going to be very hard to pay that off.
About Dr. Barbara Ostrov
Barbara Ostrov studied medicine through the State University of New York at Buffalo, where she also completed her residency.
She participated in fellowship programs at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Hospital of the University of Philadelphia.
Ostrov and her husband, Joel Buckley, live in Conewago Township. She has three children and enjoys swimming, reading, traveling, gardening, cooking and baking, and sewing.