Study shows U.S. med schools continue to underserve primary care workforce

Medical education

Some medical schools have successfully produced more family practice physicians over the past year, but on balance the primary care workforce remains underserved, according to a new study.

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) released its latest report on the percentage of medical-school graduates entering family medicine programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME). In a departure from its previous studies, the AAFP gathered detailed data on medical schools in each state, including osteopathic programs, said corresponding author Stan Kozakowski, M.D., in an announcement.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Graduation rates for family practice physicians varied widely by region, with seven states producing fewer than the national average of primary care physicians based on state population.
  • Schools located west of the Mississippi River produced family medicine doctors at a higher rate than those east of the Mississippi, despite graduating less than half the number of physicians overall than the eastern schools.
  • Among graduates receiving a D.O., 15.5 percent chose to pursue family medicine, as compared to 8.7 percent of M.D. graduates.
  • Among the 134 M.D.-granting institutions surveyed, only 10 schools produced 30 or more family medicine physicians, as compared to nine of the 32 D.O.-granting institutions studied.

Despite a shortage of primary care practitioners and the well-documented value of family medicine in achieving the Triple Aim, issues with training, med students’ poor perception of primary care as a specialty and the lack of family medicine departments at some elite schools present difficulties, per previous reporting by FiercePracticeManagement.

In order to make a dent in the numbers moving forward, Kozakowski suggested using the study’s data to look at schools that have had success as a model for developing and implementing new strategies. Specifically, he said, the industry needs “to get the right people into medical school, transform the training environment and improve the payment system.”