Background: Family practice residency programs are based largely on a model implemented more than 30 years ago. Substantial changes in medical practice, technology, and knowledge necessitate reassessment of how family physicians are prepared for practice.
Methods: We simultaneously surveyed samples of family practice residency directors, first-year residents, and family physicians due for their first board recertification examination to determine, using both quantitative and qualitative methods, their opinions about the length and content of family practice residencies in the United States.
Results: Twenty-seven percent of residency directors, 32% of residents, and 28% of family physicians favored extending family practice residency to 4 years; very few favored 2- or 5-year programs. There was dispersion of opinions about possible changes within each group and among the three groups. Most in all three groups would be willing to extend residency for more training in office-based procedures and sports medicine, but many were unwilling to extend residency for more training in surgery or hospital-based care. Residents expressed more willingness than program directors or family physicians to change training. Barriers to change included disagreement about the need to change; program financing and opportunity costs, such as loss of income and delay in debt repayment; and potential negative impact on student recruitment.
Conclusion: Most respondents support the current 3-year model of training. There is considerable interest in changing both the length and content of family practice training. Lack of consensus suggests that a period of elective experimentation might be needed to assure family physicians are prepared to meet the needs and expectations of their patients.