Increased primary-care interest not enough to affect physician-shortage trend

You can't blame the National Resident Matching Program for trying to make lemons out of lemonade, but Thursday's Match Day results weren't as much of a win for primary-care physicians as the NRMP would like you to have believed. Sure, more U.S. medical students participating in this year's matching program picked internal medicine residencies than in 2009, but only 3.4 percent more, according to the American College of Physicians, not nearly enough to put a dent in the primary-care shortage dilemma facing the U.S.

More than 2,700 students chose to focus on internal medicine in 2010. However, that number was closer to 4,000 25 years ago. Furthermore, roughly 20 to 25 percent of those students who actually chose to go into internal medicine ultimately will end up in a subspecialty of internal medicine, like cardiology, the ACP said.

"Because it takes a minimum of three years of residency after four years of medical school to train an internist, it is critical to begin making careers in internal medicine attractive to young physicians," said Dr. Steven Weinberger, a deputy vice president with the ACP. "As America's aging population increases and more people gain access to affordable coverage, the demand for general internists and other primary-care doctors will drastically outpace the primary-care physician supply."

A recent Journal of the American Medical Association report showed a falling number of hours worked by primary-care physicians since fees began their gradual decline in 1995, a trend that JAMA authors concluded could lead to worsening of the primary-care shortage in the United States. The ACP pointed out that increased Medicare and Medicaid payments to doctors, as well as more pilot testing and support for primary-care training programs all could help to ease the shortage.

For more information:
- here's the ACP's press release
- read the NRMP's press release