It's a family affair for Brian Blank at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he celebrates with his wife, Laura, and daughter Lillian after learning that he's going to his number one pick, Duke Family Medicine Residency in Durham, N.C.
Pause for just a moment to cheer this fact: Today, 3,060 graduating medical students choose a career in family medicine.
That's the news just released by the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) for this annual celebratory event commonly referred to as the Match.
And with that announcement comes the realization that for the sixth straight year, the family medicine match rate ticked upward. Furthermore, 3,216 family medicine residency positions were offered in 2015, an increase of 84 positions compared to 2014.
That overall family medicine fill rate of 95.1 percent -- down slightly from 95.8 percent in 2014 -- represents 60 more positions accepted by graduates compared to last year.
(Read an in-depth analysis of the 2015 Match provided by the AAFP's Medicine Education Division.)
The AAFP's count of students matching to family medicine includes students who matched into traditional family medicine residency programs as well as into programs that combine family medicine education with other focused training. Those additional programs are
- The National Resident Matching Program announced the results of the 2015 Match, which showed that 3,060 graduating medical students chose a career in family medicine.
- For the sixth straight year, the family medicine match rate ticked upward.
- The number of U.S. seniors choosing family medicine slowed at an unexpected rate in 2015, to 1,422 -- with just six more U.S. seniors matching to the specialty than last year.
- family medicine/emergency medicine,
- family medicine/preventive medicine,
- family medicine/medicine and
- family medicine/psychiatry.
"The Academy congratulates and welcomes these new family medicine recruits," said AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., in an interview with AAFP News. "When these residents complete their training programs, there will be plenty of patients across the country eager to welcome new family physicians to their communities."
All the well-wishing must be tempered by this sobering reality: The number of U.S. seniors choosing family medicine slowed at an unexpected rate in 2015, to 1,422 -- with just six more U.S. seniors lining up for the specialty than last year.
Although the Academy will work in coming weeks and months to determine specific factors for that slowing, Wergin pointed to a health care environment in which policymakers and payers have caused instability by shifting positions, reversing decisions and changing the rules -- sometimes simultaneously.
"This uneven environment likely is taking its toll on medical students who are anxious to finish their clinical training and move on with their careers," said Wergin.
Posing with his girlfriend and his family, Mustafa Alavi (second from left) at the University of Illinois, Chicago, smiles after learning that he'll soon be headed to his top residency choice, Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
In a press release the AAFP issued today, Wergin put it this way: "We saw a consistent and increasing growth in U.S. medical students matching to family medicine during the implementation of health system reforms that emphasized the importance of comprehensive primary medical care."
However, that growth has slowed as policymakers have pulled back, he added.
Additional Primary Care Highlights
As the AAFP pointed out in its initial analysis of the 2015 NRMP match results, family medicine trumped all the other primary care specialists in terms of residency positions offered and filled. In fact, according to that analysis, family medicine routinely fills about 80 percent of all primary care positions.
Other Match data singled out by the AAFP analysis show that
- primary care internal medicine filled 339 positions in 2015, six more than in 2014,
- medicine pediatrics filled 379 positions in 2015, 17 more than last year,
- primary care pediatrics filled 74 spots, one fewer than in 2014 and
- medicine/preventive medicine offered and filled seven positions in 2015, the same number as recorded in 2014.
Kristina Zimmerman at The Commonwealth Medical College at Scranton, Pa., has some fun with her husband, Rob, left, and father-in-law Jeff, right, after learning that she's headed to Lancaster General Health Family Medicine Residency in Lancaster, Pa.
Overall, the AAFP noted that the average fill rate for all primary care specialties in 2015 was 96 percent; 49.2 percent of positions were filled by U.S. seniors -- the same percentage recorded in 2014.
Student Interest Grows
Stan Kozakowski, M.D., director of the AAFP Medical Education Division, echoed Wergin's concern about slow growth reflected by some of the numbers.
"This year's flattening of interest by an important segment of applicants is obviously disappointing," said Kozakowski. "Clearly more work needs to be done on many fronts to inspire U.S. allopathic seniors to select a career in family medicine," he added.
But he pointed out statistics that support the idea that medical students do have a strong interest in learning more about family medicine.
For instance, AAFP records show consistent strong increases in the number of medical students attending the AAFP's annual event for its younger members -- the National Conference of Family Medicine Residents and Medical Students -- set in 2015 for July 30 to Aug. 1.
The annual conference attendance numbers -- 805 in 2011, 889 in 2012, 1,028 in 2,013 and 1,209 in 2014 -- show pumped-up interest in the specialty.
And then there are reports from family medicine interest groups (FMIGs) -- a giant network of support established by the AAFP in 1995 as a way to, among other things, encourage promotion of family medicine on medical school campuses across the country.
Data from the AAFP's annual FMIG Activity Survey for the 2014-2015 academic year showed that not a single FMIG reported decreasing interest in family medicine at its school.
Furthermore, the report highlighted a 10 percent jump in the number of FMIGS that showed increasing interest in family medicine (from 43 percent to 53 percent). And this academic year matched the 2013-2014 record for the largest national FMIG network since the its inception.
The survey was completed by 145 FMIGs, including seven groups on U.S. medical school campuses without departments of family medicine (of which there are 10).
Call to Action
As for swelling the ranks of family physicians to meet population demands, Wergin issued a call to action to his colleagues.
"Students begin medical school with a strong altruistic sense of wanting to take care of patients. Along the way, outside influences take their toll and students lose sight of what drove them to medicine in the first place. We as family physicians must do our part by serving as positive role models and mentors to these students," said Wergin.
"We as an academy must continue our work with policymakers to ensure that the number of family medicine training positions continues to grow and that payment for primary care services is commensurate with the skill level we bring to our patients.
"The future of health care delivery in our country is at stake," he added.
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