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Center for Policy Research

Policy Brief

Physician Sovereignty: The Dangerous Persistence of an Obsolete Idea

David M. Lawrence

C.P.R. Policy Brief No. 40

January 2009

Abstract

The heart of the model is this: to quote Pogo, "We have met the enemy and it is us." We doctors are the problem, not because we are venal or self-serving or insulated from reality. Far from it. Most of us are hard-working, dedicated professionals. We are the problem, though, because of the way our profession developed in the 20th century. This model is no longer appropriate for what lies ahead.

The notion of the sovereign physician comes from Paul Starr's 1982 work, "The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Profession and the Making of a Vast Industry." Starr argues that the rise of the sovereign profession we know today was neither inevitable nor foreordained. It was instead the result of a long struggle to establish the modern medical profession in the face of other competitors and forces. Sovereignty is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is its manifestations in medical practice, and its suitability for the future, that is of concern.

Sponsored by the The Herbert Lourie Memorial Lecture series, which is jointly sponsored by Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the Central New York Community Foundation, Inc., and is administered by the Center for Policy Research and The Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion.

The Center for Policy Research Policy Brief series is a collection of essays on current public policy issues in aging; urban and regional studies; education finance and accountability; public finance; social welfare, poverty, and income security; and related research done by or on behalf of the Center for Policy Research at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.


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