Plan of the century: Switch doctors and teachers

Bob Oeste

July 16, 1993|By Bob Oeste

FOR schoolteachers, it's exactly midsummer. They're scattered everywhere, no doubt breathing prayers of thanks to their patron saint, Persephone, first woman to get summers off in exchange for spending 180 days a year in hell.

Is it really that bad? You bet it is, and like every other ex-teacher, I know just what to do about it. But unlike others, my plan is simple.

As of right now a typical teacher earns about $35,000 (close to $40,000 in Maryland). A typical doctor earns $135,000. Here's my plan: Switch them.

That's right, just pay teachers what doctors make, and get the cash by dropping doctors' salaries to the level of teachers' pay, or by taxing each doctor a flat $100,000 and giving it to teachers. A useful side effect of this plan is that it solves the health-care cost crisis, too, but I won't take credit for that.

That's basically it. The market will then take over and the system correct itself. Within months doctors will be forced to sell their homes and cars, unable to make monthly payments. They'll find a ready market in the newly wealthy teachers. Many could simply swap. The first noticeable effect will be the fleet of Mercedes 500 SLs on the teachers' parking lot at Central City Elementary School.

At this point the system is still grossly unfair, because even though it's costing five times as much, the quality of education hasn't improved a bit. That's crazy. But it won't last.

Once those new Mercedes catch the eye of our high school seniors, they'll start planning for careers in teaching. American schools of education will be swamped with applications. Only the very brightest students will be accepted. Less able ones will enroll in overflow schools of education in places like Peru. Medical schools will languish, forced to accept students with the lowest scores just to fill the classrooms and meet their payrolls.

Within a few years, newly graduated teachers will flood the job market. They will be tough, brilliant, aggressive, deeply committed and superbly trained. (A little arrogant, maybe, a little distant, sure, but they're teachers, after all.) Less able, older teachers will be fired. Most will apply to medical school. All will be accepted.

Eventually, colleges will re-adjust. Ed students will study for eight years, med students for four. Medical training will consist of 18 credit hours beyond your major plus maybe a semester as student doctor. Medical students will take courses like "Decorating the Waiting Room" and "Maintaining the Office Appointment Calendar." These courses can be taught easily by ex-professors of education.

On the down side, many of us will get sick and die as inept physicians prescribe the wrong medicine or misdiagnose a deadly illness. Badly trained surgeons will perform clumsy operations with unsterilized instruments.

Strapped for cash, hospitals will hold bake sales to buy used medical equipment. It will work about as well as those old high school film projectors. Magazines will print tiresome articles titled "Why Johnny Can't Get Well." And of course, to avoid damaging self-esteem, terminally ill patients will be told they're cured.

But our schools will flourish. We will speak in hushed tones as we drive by our teachers' lavish suburban homes. "No wonder she lives in that mansion," we'll say to our kids. "She's a teacher!"

No doubt inequities will remain. Since we'll pay doctors from property taxes, those of us who live in the biggest houses will have the best medical care, but that's basically the situation now. Besides, the wealthy can always visit more competent private doctors who did not take all those useless medical courses and actually know something about curing people.

So that's my plan. It can't fail. It's based on the very American proposition that you can solve a problem by throwing money at it.

Bob Oeste writes from Towson.

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