Med schools lure students to primary care, combat shortage

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In light of a looming primary care physician shortage, the nation is taking steps to lure medical students to the specialty. In fact, the success of health reform weighs on the prospect of hiring 30,000 additional primary care physicians by 2015, facing a shortfall of 29,800 PCPs, reported The Washington Post.

Although medical students matching into primary care residencies increased 20 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, trying to make workforce gains in primary care is certainly no small feat. The primary care specialty is contending with a number of factors that aren't helping to boost PCP numbers. For one thing, PCPs might not make as much as specialists.

"No matter what specialty you're going into, your medical education costs the same,"American Academy of Family Physicians President Glen Stream told the Post. "Think about a medical student who is sort of interested in primary care and has got $250,000 in debt. People are often driven by financial incentives, and you basically get the outcome that you incent. Health-care workforce is not different from any other sector in that regard."

While a primary care doctor might earn $101 in Medicare reimbursements an hour, a hospital radiologist might earn $193, the article noted.

Last summer, the White House administration launched the Primary Care Residency Expansion at 82 hospitals, gearing residents for primary care work.

To help promote interest in primary care careers, medical schools also are steering students to the specialty, according to U.S. News and World Report. For instance, University of Maryland School of Medicine received a five-year $877,000 grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration to help grow the nation's PCP workforce. The school will have a special Primary Care Track in which family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine teams collaborate, preparing students for underserved rural and urban areas.

"While we remain a top-tier research-intensive institution, we must recognize our responsibility to primary care to ensure access to health care, especially in underserved communities where health disparities may exist," E. Albert Reece, vice president for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland and Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said in a university news brief.

The first group of students in this program graduated in 2010, and nearly three out of four of those students chose to pursue a primary care specialty, nearly twice the national average.

"There is no way to contain health care costs without addressing the need for more primary care services," Linda Lewin, associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said.

For more information:
- read the Washington Post article
- read the U.S. News article
- here's the U of Maryland news brief

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