The Doctors in the House: Examining Physician Legislators in the US Congress From 2011 to 2020

Bharat Kumar, MD, MME; Manish Suneja, MD; Melissa L. Swee, MD, MME


South Med J. 2022;115(5):322-327. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Objectives: Legislation dictating federal healthcare policy is drafted largely by members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. As such, their personal and professional backgrounds play important roles in setting the national healthcare agenda. We examine the professional and legislative records of the 28 federal physician legislators with voting privileges between 2011 and 2020.

Methods: Two researchers compiled the names of every federal legislator in both the US Senate and the US House of Representatives who served at any time between 2011 and 2020. The researchers used publicly available records to abstract information regarding their professional and legislative records. Data were then analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Results: The majority of the 28 federal physician legislators are Doctor of Medicine graduates (96%), Republican (86%), represent southern states (71%), were in private practice before serving as legislators (78.5%), and have not previously held elected positions as legislators (57%). Approximately 15% of the bills that they sponsor are related to health policy. Obstetrics/Gynecology, Surgery, and Family Medicine are the most common specialties. On average, it takes 25 years from medical school graduation to election to their federal legislative position. Approximately half represent states, or districts within states, in which they attended medical school or completed residency.

Conclusions: To engage in meaningful healthcare policy advocacy, professional organizations must support and encourage leadership training for physicians, increase the geographic and professional diversity of physician legislators, prioritize the election of physicians from both political parties, and inculcate deep and lasting professional relationships to physicians in Congress.


Healthcare policy in the United States is largely determined by legislation that is drafted in the US Senate and House of Representatives.[1] As such, healthcare policy is intimately shaped by the experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and personal relationships of the 100 senators and 435 voting members of the House of Representatives who draft, introduce, and vote on such legislation.[2] Unfortunately, compared with other professions, such as law and business, there are only a few physician legislators at the federal level. In the 116th Congress, there were only 17 physicians, compared with 192 involved in law and 95 involved in education.[3]

To address the relative paucity of federal physician legislators (FPLs), it is important to analyze their professional careers as both physicians and public servants, and to understand the dynamics that enable them to ascend to such positions. Through such analysis, we can generate suggestions and potential solutions to ensure that physicians are adequately represented in the US Congress.