Number of Students Choosing Family Medicine Dips, Despite Skyrocketing Demand

Thursday, March 19, 2009


LEAWOOD, Kan. — Demand for family physicians is up and growing. Proposals for health system reform focus on increasing the number of primary care physicians in America.

Despite those trends, the number of future physicians who chose family medicine dipped this year, according to the 2009 National Resident Matching Program, the system by which graduating medical students choose residency training programs.

National Resident Matching Program results announced today showed that a total of 2,329 graduating medical students matched to family medicine training programs. This is a decrease in total student matches from 2008, when 2,404 family medicine residency positions were filled. Of those positions, 1,083 U.S. seniors selected family medicine, compared to 1,172 in 2008. The other 1,156 positions were filled by international medical graduates, U.S. citizens who graduated from overseas medical schools, graduates of osteopathic schools and students who graduated off-cycle due to events such as illness, maternity leave or international training rotations.

After seeing a trend toward stabilization and even slight growth in medical students’ interest in family medicine in previous years, the 2009 results are a disappointment, particularly at a time when demand for family physicians has skyrocketed, according to Ted Epperly, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“If America is to right the ship of health care and turn it toward higher quality, controlled costs, better outcomes, and less economic, geographic and ethnic disparity, it must increase the number of primary care physicians,” Epperly said in a statement responding to the 2009 Match. “We cannot meet that goal without dramatically changing the policies that affect our medical education system, graduate medical education and the incentives that draw students to careers in primary care.”

The AAFP was among the first organizations to warn about a looming shortage of family physicians in 2006. At that time, the AAFP research indicated the U.S. health care system would need 139,531 family physicians to meet demand.

“That means we must graduate 4,439 family physicians each year” to meet that goal, said Epperly. “In our current environment, the nation is attracting only half the number of future family physicians that we will need.”

Meanwhile, demand for primary care physicians continues to skyrocket, according to national surveys. In its most recent recruitment survey, Merritt Hawkins, a national physician recruiting company, reported primary care physician search assignments had more than doubled from 341 in 2003 to 848 last year.

“The numbers are clear – the American people and our health care system are increasingly in desperate need for primary care physicians,” said Epperly.

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.  To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website,