Purpose: To examine changes among a nationally representative sample of students and residents in their orientations toward primary care as reflected in their attitudes toward the psychosocial and technical aspects of medicine and their perceptions of the academic environment for primary care.
Method: Confidential telephone interviews of stratified national probability samples of first- and fourth-year medical students and residents were conducted in 1994 and 1997. The 1997 survey included 219 students and 241 residents who had also been interviewed in 1994. Participants were asked about their attitudes toward addressing psychosocial issues in medicine and their perceptions of faculty and peer attitudes toward primary care. Responses were compared over time and across groups.
Results: Between the first and fourth years of medical school, there was a decline over time in students' reported orientations to socioemotional aspects of patient care (61.6% versus 42.7%, p =.001) and their perceptions that working with psychosocial issues of patients made primary care more attractive (56.3% versus 43.5%, p =.01). This pattern continued for 1997 residents (PGY-3), who were even less likely to say that addressing psychosocial issues made primary care more attractive (26.9%). For fourth-year students in 1994 who became PGY-3 residents in 1997, there was an increased perception that non-primary-care house officers and specialty faculty had positive attitudes toward primary care (20.8% versus 33.0%, p =.005; 28.3% versus 45.7%, p <.0001; respectively).
Conclusions: Between 1994 and 1997 students and residents perceived a positive shift in the attitudes of peers and faculty toward primary care. During the course of their education and training, however, the students experienced an erosion of their orientations to primary care as they progressed through medical school into residency.