Background: The structure of family practice residency programs remains essentially unchanged from the model first proposed more than 35 years ago. Advances in medical technology and knowledge combined with increasing restrictions on resident work hours and decreasing medical student interest invite reconsideration of how family physicians are trained.
Methods: We resurveyed 442 third-year family practice residents who had participated in a prior study in 2000 to determine whether their opinions about the length and content of residency had changed and whether they would still choose to be a physician and a family physician.
Results: Thirty-seven percent of responding third-year residents favored extending family practice residency to 4 years. Compared as groups, there was relatively little change in opinion between first- and third-year residents. However, residents' individual responses about the settings and content areas for which they would be willing to consider extending training varied considerably between years 1 and 3. Personal characteristics did not seem to influence residents' opinions about length and content of training. Reasons for favoring a 4-year program and barriers to change were similar to those reported previously. Residents' commitment to medicine and family medicine was still strong and was not associated with their opinions about length of training.
Conclusion: Although most surveyed residents favored a 3-year residency program, a substantial minority still supported extending training to 4 years, and the majority would still choose to enter family medicine programs if they were extended. Given a lack of consensus about specific content areas, family medicine should consider a period of experimentation to determine how to best prepare future family physicians.