Would-be doctors don't endure the rigors of medical school to become loss leaders. Yet, increasingly, that is what's happening, as hospitals swallow up the practices of independent primary-care doctors and specialists and gain a lucrative source of referrals for services ranging from lab tests to surgical procedures. According to an extensively researched report by Kansas City Star reporter Alan Bavley, the number of doctors on hospital payrolls has risen by one-third since 2000. In many cases, that's by choice. Young doctors are opting to become employees of hospitals or physicans' groups, preferring a regular work schedule and freedom from administrative chores to the expense and responsibilities of an independent practice.