Background and objectives: This study investigated factors related to declining interest in family medicine by US medical school graduates.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to all physicians who graduated from 24 medical schools in 1997-1999, and who entered a family medicine residency, and a randomly selected equal number of graduates from the same years who entered other primary care specialties. Between 1997 and 1999, 12 of these schools had increases and 12 had decreases in the proportion of graduates choosing family medicine residencies.
Results: Between 1997 and 1999, at schools with increasing proportions of graduates choosing family medicine, there were significant increases in the proportion of graduates who (1). had entered medical school with a specialty preference of family medicine, (2). spent their required family medicine clerkship at two or more sites, (3). ranked the competence of family medicine faculty highly, (4). reported the faculty member they most wanted to be like was a family physician, and (5). experienced clinical rotations in both family medicine and primary care. At schools with declines in the proportion of graduates choosing family medicine, there were significant declines in the proportion of graduates who (1). ranked the competence of family medicine faculty highly, (2). stated that they were encouraged to go into family medicine, and (3). reported that the faculty member they most wanted to be like was a family physician. In schools with decreases in family medicine graduates, there was a significant increase in the proportion of graduates intending a large city or suburban practice. Using binary logistic regression, the variables that remained significantly correlated with attending a school with increases or decreases in students selecting family medicine were the number of required clinical rotations in family medicine and primary care, the perception of the clinical competence of the family medicine faculty, and an intent to practice, or subsequently having a practice, in a rural area.
Conclusions: Schools that want to increase their production of family physicians should consider admissions policies that select students inclined toward family medicine and rural practice, should adopt a curriculum that maximizes clinical training with family physicians and other primary care physicians, and should ensure that their family medicine faculty are perceived as competent role models.