Primary Care On the Rise Among Medical Students

More American medical school seniors will begin residency training in primary-care or family medicine in July, marking an 11.3 percent increase over last year and the second consecutive year of growth in the practice, according to the National Resident Matching Program (NRMP).  Medical school seniors filled 1,301 family medicine positions this year, a significant increase over the 1,169 who chose primary care in 2010.  This year, 48 percent of available family medicine positions were filled, an increase over the 44.8 percent in 2010.  Internal medicine matches rose eight percent, to 2,940 from 2,722, also showing an increase for the second year in a row.  This year, 57.4 percent of available internal medicine residency positions were filled, an increase over the 54.5 percent reported in 2010.

“We were pleased that this year’s Match was able to offer more positions,” Mona M. Signer, NRMP executive director, said.  “There will no doubt be wonderful cause for celebration at the nation’s medical schools today and for all participants as they experience this defining moment in their careers as physicians.”

“This is good news for internal medicine and adult patient care in the U.S.,” said J. Fred Ralston, Jr. MD, FACP, president of the American College of Physicians (ACP).  “The American College of Physicians has consistently called for healthcare reforms that support internal medicine as a career path, including increasing support for primary care training programs, increasing Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement to primary care physicians, and expanding pilot testing and implementation of new models of patient care.”  Although the ACP is enthusiastic about the trend that sees more students choosing internal medicine for their residencies, the organization warns that expanding the number of primary-care physicians is still a long way from its goal of meeting the needs of an aging population who require care for chronic and complex illnesses.  “We’re cautiously optimistic and hope that the positive trend continues,” said Steven Weinberger, MD, FACP, executive vice president and CEO, ACP.  “But the U.S. still has to overcome a generational shift that resulted in decreased numbers of students choosing primary care as a career.  In 1985, 3,884 U.S. medical school graduates chose internal medicine residency programs.  And the 18.9 percent of U.S. seniors that matched internal medicine in 2011 is the same percentage as 2007.”

At Meharry Medical College in Nashville, half of the 98 graduating students opted for primary-care specialties.  Additionally, many Meharry students chose internal medicine, pediatrics, ob/gyn and family medicine.  “At Meharry, we proudly embrace and emphasize primary care as a very worthy career pursuit for future physicians,” said Charles P. Moulton, M.D., M.S., and Dean of the School of Medicine and Senior Vice President for Health Affairs.  “The fact that so many of our students go into the primary-care field is a tribute to our unique and nurturing brand of medical education, our institution and its role in helping to fill the increasing need for primary-care physicians across the country.”  At Meharry, 10 students matched in family medicine; 17 in internal medicine; 16 in pediatrics; and six in ob/gyn.

Ronald Goertz, M.D., M.B.A., president of the American Association of Family Physicians was heartened by the news, saying that the increases suggest growing interest in the specialty among U.S. medical school graduates. “This year’s results mark the second consecutive year of increased interest in family medicine.  “Although several factors likely contribute to the increase, we believe an important element is recognition that primary care medicine is absolutely essential if we are to improve the quality of health care and help control its costs.  Of course, sustaining this interest will require continuing changes in the way America pays for and delivers health care to patients.”

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