Medical schools working to close the primary care gap often find themselves struggling against barriers of their own making.
The ongoing shortage of primary care physicians remains a concern across the medical industry, and med schools have historically harbored a cynical view of primary care, to the point where some elite medical schools don’t even bother with departments of family medicine.
That has meant students actively seeking a career in primary care commonly experience a less-than-encouraging academic atmosphere, according to a recent article in Medical Economics. “I definitely got messages along the way where I could tell people had the attitude of, ‘it’s fine if you want to do that, but it’s not anything impressive,’” said Diana Huang, a student at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, describing the lukewarm response she received from the medical school community regarding her chosen specialty.
The article points to a relative lack of mentors and role models for aspiring primary care physicians, whether due to burnout or existing biases among medical school administrators and faculty members. The article describes this phenomenon as advancing a “hidden curriculum” that marginalizes primary care.
As an internist, Stuart Markowitz, M.D., senior associate dean for student affairs and admissions at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, is acutely aware that many doctors steer students away from the business. His institution counters this tendency by ensuring primary care specialists have a louder voice among faculty and administrators.
“Students hear a lot about primary care from us, both in medical education and student affairs,” he says.
Primary care’s position toward the bottom of the salary scale has also been a deterrent for students facing ever-higher debt loads. The industry has begun to respond to this situation recently, however, with a trend toward rising starting salaries and higher compensation in general among primary care physicians.