Hammers and nails 28. February 2008 William Davis (4) I'm sure you've heard the old saying that, To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. It couldn't be truer than in heart procedures (the man with the hammer) and heart disease (the nail). What does it take in 2008 to become an interventional cardiologist trained in all the techniques of angioplasty, stenting, intracoronary ultrasound, etc.? Start with your undergraduate degree (4 years), then medical school (another 4 years), then training in internal medicine (3 years), then general cardiology taining (3 years), then an additional year in interventional cardiology. Each step along the way also involves competing for these spaces, a process that requires much time, money, and sweat. The total time investment is 15 years after high school. Many if not most college students graduate with debt. Pile on the substantial cost of medical school. Training after medical school pays a modest salary, enough for a single person. Many trainees by then have spouses and a family, would like to buy a house, have bills to pay. (I managed to buy my first house for $69,000 in Columbus, Ohio and paid my mortgage by sleeping only every other night and moonlighting on my off nights.) By the time the interventional cardiologist-in-training finishes his/her 15 years, they are hungry for a hefty increase in income. After such a time and money investment, I do believe that there is at least some justification for generous income for the years of work involved. Back to our hammer and nail metaphor. Not only do we now have a man or woman with a hammer, but a really expensive hammer that required a substantial amount of effort to obtain. Now, our hapless hammer-bearer is desperate to see everything in sight as a nail. You're seen in consultation by this fresh interventional cardiologist in practice for only a few years. Guess what he/she advises? Go straight to the catheterization laboratory, of course. Throw in the fact that insurance reimbursement is most generous for heart procedures, far more than for consulting in the office, doing a stress test, or other simpler, non-invasive tests, and the incentives are clear. The system, you see, is set up to follow such a path. The path to the cath lab is heavily incentivized, paths in the other direction discouraged, disparaged, or just ignored. My message: Don't get nailed.