Family medicine physicians increased in 2010

Family medicine residency training programs attracted 101 more U.S. medical school graduates to the specialty in 2010 than in 2009, according to the National Residency Match Program.

In total, 1,184 U.S. graduates were recruited this year.

The number of students choosing family medicine, which includes U.S. medical school graduates and international medical graduates, was 2,404, putting this year’s “fill rate” at 91.4 percent – a record for family medicine, according to program officials. Family medicine residency programs offered an additional 75 positions this year.

Both increases suggest an upswing in interest among U.S. medical school graduates, according to Lori Heim, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

“We are very pleased with this year’s match,” she said. “This could signal a turn-around that we’re hoping will continue. But much of that depends on whether we see meaningful reforms in the way healthcare is delivered to the patient.”

Heim attributed the results to a growing awareness of family physicians’ importance in patient care and a greater appreciation for the role they will play in a reformed healthcare system.

“I think primary care medicine became much more visible in the debate about healthcare reform,” she said. “In virtually every discussion about improving the quality of care, people pointed to the need to rebalance our system on a foundation of primary medical care. Add in the heightened awareness of the patient-centered medical home, and students began to understand that family physicians will be able to practice the kind of medicine they envisioned when they decided to become a doctor.”

Over the past decade, the number of U.S. medical school graduates going into family medicine has plummeted by 52 percent. Since 2006, studies have pointed to a worsening shortage of family physicians and other primary care doctors.

Currently, primary care physicians comprise 30 percent of the U.S. physician workforce. Sub-specialists make up the other 70 percent. However, studies indicate primary care physicians comprise half of the physician workforce in efficient, high-quality systems.

“If we’re going to close the primary care physician gap, we need to graduate twice as many family physicians as we are now graduating,” said Heim. “This year’s match results are a step in the right direction. They demonstrate a shift in interest in primary care physician careers.”

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