Fewer Medical Students Choose Primary Care, Patients May Suffer

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Media Contact:
Leslie Champlin
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237, ext. 5224

LEAWOOD, Kan. – The annual National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) today announced results showing the number of medical students choosing careers in family medicine remains stagnant, raising concerns the primary care physician workforce will not be adequate to meet the needs of an aging population with an increased prevalence of chronic disease.

After two years of minimal increases in the number of applicants matching to family medicine residency positions, the 2007 match saw five fewer filled positions -- 2,313 this year compared with 2,318 in 2006. Also down was the total number and percentage of U.S. students who match to family medicine: 1,107 or 7.8 percent of participating U.S. graduates matched to family medicine this year, compared to 1,132 or 8.1 percent in 2006. This year, there were 106 fewer family medicine residency positions offered than in 2006. For complete statistics, charts and graphs, please visit http://www.aafp.org/match.

“Family medicine is a critical part of the solution to providing high-quality, affordable and accessible health care to everyone,” said Rick Kellerman, M.D., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “Studies clearly demonstrate that a higher ratio of primary care physicians, particularly family physicians, to population leads to better health outcomes and lower costs.”

To further illustrate the need for more primary care physicians, the Merritt, Hawkins & Associates 2006 Survey of Primary Care Physicians found that “close to half of physicians surveyed are receiving significant recruitment activity – at least 48 job solicitations a year. The demand for primary care physicians appears to be fairly robust, if not as overwhelming as it was a decade ago.”

Despite a continued demand for more primary care physicians, the total proportion of medical students matching into primary care specialties remains low. Of the total of 20,514 applicants who selected residencies through the Match this year, only 3,008 matched into clearly identified primary care programs (internal medicine-primary, pediatrics-primary, Med-Peds).

“Family physicians are the nexus of the U.S. health care safety net,” Kellerman said. “Unless purposeful steps are taken now, the continuing low proportion of medical students choosing family medicine will mean an increasingly fragmented, over-specialized, inefficient system. This spells problems for all generations of people in all communities, from urban and suburban to rural and frontier America.”

The physician workforce report and policy statement adopted by the AAFP Congress of Delegates last fall cited the need for nearly 40,000 more family physicians to meet the escalating health care needs of the American people. It recommends the following:

  • All medical schools should manage recruitment efforts to attract students most likely to select career paths and practice locations that will improve the current state of geographic mal-distribution of both types and numbers of physicians across the nation.
  • Through Congress, the U.S. should increase payments to family physicians in order to attract them to and sustain them in the new model of family medicine, and to promote improvement in health care delivery outcomes.
  • All payers of health care services should contribute to the costs of medical education.
  • Training programs that produce physicians in accordance with AAFP workforce policy, physicians from underrepresented minorities, or those whose graduates practice in underserved communities or serve rural and inner-city populations should be preferentially funded .
  • National funding for graduate medical education should reflect physician workforce policy that preferentially funds training for needed generalist physicians, particularly family physicians.

“This year’s Match results show a continued disconnect between the current market-driven health care system and the needs of the American people for access to cost-effective, patient-focused health care,” said Perry Pugno, M.D., M.P.H., AAFP director of medical education.

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 129,000 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only 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
www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.familydoctor.org(www.familydoctor.org).