March 29, 2016
2 min read

Not enough medical students choosing family medicine to fulfill future need

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Despite a slight upward trend in graduating medical students expressing an interest in entering family medicine, this year’s growth is the smallest since 2012, at a time when primary care physicians are increasingly being asked to do more, according to the AAFP.

Released last week, results from the 2016 National Residency Matching Program showed that 3,105 medical students chose family medicine. That represents an increase of 45 from 2015. In addition, the number of U.S. medical school graduates choosing family medicine was 1,481, an increase of 59 from last year.

“Although we’re pleased that interest in family medicine is holding steady, the nation needs for that interest to rise dramatically,” Wanda Filer, MD, AAFP president, said in a press release. “We’re particularly pleased that the increase of U.S. medical students choosing family medicine jumped from six in 2015 to 59 this year. However, this year’s overall match number is the smallest growth since 2012, when we saw a total increase of 327 students matching to family medicine. That has fallen to a total increase of 45 this year.”

According to the AAFP, the current aging population requires family medicine physicians to handle multiple complex chronic conditions. The academy also pointed to a pair of recent studies: One found that primary care physicians now provide far more complex care in terms of health problems addressed per patient visit, and the other showed that primary care physicians manage 23 diagnostic codes, whereas subspecialists use a median of six.

In addition, an AAFP snapshot released earlier this month found that 70% of academy members have experienced an increase in the number of health issues addressed in a single office visit, and 43% reported an increase in the number of patients with severe health complications.

Three possible policies that could address this “trickle” of students entering family medicine, according to the AAFP, are:

  • making permanent the Teaching Health Center Graduate Medical Education Program, supported through CMS graduate medical education funding, which would fund new primary care residencies at community health centers;
  • focusing on new policies that “hold graduate medical education funding accountable for the tax dollars invested in education;” and
  • creating programs encouraging young people from underserved ethnic populations and rural areas to attend medical school, as rural birth, interest in serving underserved or minority communities and attending a public medical school are predictors of choosing primary care.

“I like to say that students who choose family medicine are choosing a full-scope medical career that serves the needs of our nation,” Filer said in a press release. “I tell students that when you choose family medicine, you choose more than one organ system, more than one gender, more than one age. We serve everyone.” – by Jason Laday

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