Background and objectives: This study was conducted to explore the hypothesis that negative comments from faculty and residents about family practice are related to the recent decline in student selection of this specialty.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to all family physicians and an equal number of other primary care physicians who graduated from one of 24 medical schools in 1997-1999. Twelve schools had increasing proportions of graduates choosing family practice in the study period, and 12 had decreasing proportions. The questionnaire asked about negative comments heard about family practice and other primary care specialties.
Results: Most graduates heard negative comments about family practice during medical school, and many students heard these comments often. However, the frequency and content of negative comments was not related to increases or decreases in the proportion of students choosing family practice. Negative comments were heard more frequently about family practice than about other primary care specialties. Negative comments increased in frequency during the study period. The negative comments on the questionnaire heard most often were that family physicians cannot master the content of the specialty and that they are not as smart as other physicians. Compared to other graduates, those with an initial interest in family practice who chose another specialty more frequently reported hearing that family physicians can't master the specialty content. There was an inverse relationship between the number of groups (students, residents, and faculty) that negative comments were heard from and ranking of family medicine faculty on respectability, influence, and competence.
Conclusions: After 3 decades of being an officially recognized specialty, family practice is not recognized by some other medical school faculty as an equal to other primary care disciplines, and these faculty frequently express this view to students. While the frequency of these negative comments is increasing and is related to trainees' perceptions of family medicine faculty, it does not explain the recent decline in student interest in family practice. There is some evidence that students who change their career plans away from family practice might be concerned with their ability to master the specialty content. The prevalence of negative comments is related to trainees' perceptions of family medicine faculty.