The American Academy of Family Physicians has made these charts and graphs available for use by journalists to help illustrate the care delivered by family physicians. For additional information, please contact us.
Student interest in family medicine continued its upward trend in the 2018 Match. “The number and proportion of U.S. medical graduates going into family medicine is the strongest indicator of the future of the primary care workforce because family medicine is the only specialty completely devoted to primary care,” said Michael Munger, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. “The continued increased interest in family medicine is promising news as we continue to fight the workforce shortage.”
The most recent data show total debt for graduating medical school students was $249,000 in 2016. That total debt has steadily increased since 2009, when total debt per student was $213,000.
Family physicians and their primary care colleagues rank among the lowest in income of all medical specialties. The U.S. health care system pays more for procedures that intervene in a disease process or injury than it pays for patient-physician office visits that prevent disease and injury. The result: an expensive health care system that strains the financial capacity of individuals, employers, and public safety net programs.
Health care policy analysts say that efficient, high quality health care systems are based on primary medical care. The United States does not currently have such a system; primary care physicians comprise slightly more than 31 percent of all physicians. Subspecialists—such as dermatologists, orthopedic subspecialists, cardiologists and surgeons—comprise nearly 67 percent of all physicians.
Family physicians have dramatically increased patients’ access to care. Eight in 10 family physicians provide open access/same-day scheduling and more nearly six in 10 provide extended/evening office hours and a web portal for secure messaging between patients and their family physicians.
Family physicians have medical expertise to provide care for the entire patient. They see all ages from infants to adolescents to adults and provide care in both the community and in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice settings. More than seven in 10 family physicians provide chronic care management, adolescent medicine, geriatric care and care of infants and young children. They also see patients in urgent care, inpatient settings, emergency rooms and intensive care.
Primary care physicians are significantly more represented in non-metropolitan areas than specialists. This is especially true among family physicians. Specialists, internists, pediatricians, and geriatricians are all more highly concentrated in highly populated urban areas than the United States population as a whole. Family physicians comprise 15 percent of the U.S. outpatient physician workforce, but they perform about 42 percent of patient visits in rural areas.
Most medical students are trained in university-based hospitals known as academic health centers, which care for the most seriously ill patients. This hospital-based education skews medical students’ perception of medical practice, because most patients get their care in doctors’ offices and community settings. In fact, very few of students’ future patients will actually require care in such a high-tech, tertiary care hospital as an academic health center.
Every state in the Union will need significantly more family physicians by 2020, according to the 2006 AAFP Workforce Report. The report predicted a national need for 139,531 family physicians by 2020. The United States already has a shortage of family physicians, and demand continues to rise. Merritt Hawkins, a national physician recruitment company, reports that recruitment requests for family physicians grew by 62 percent between 2006-2007 and 2007-2008. Requests for family physicians grew by 196 percent between 2004-2005 and 2007-2008.