Jefferson Medical College initiated the Physician Shortage Area Program (PSAP) in 1974; this program preferentially admits medical school applicants from rural backgrounds who intend to practice family medicine in rural and underserved areas. Evaluation of the program has shown that PSAP graduates from the classes of 1978 to 1985 have performed slightly less well than their peers (non-PSAP) during medical school, although there was no difference in attrition between the two groups. Nor did the performance of PSAP and non-PSAP graduates differ during their postgraduate training. PSAP graduates from the classes of 1978 to 1981 were almost five times as likely as non-PSAP graduates to practice family medicine (59.6 vs. 12.6 percent, P less than 0.001), three times as likely to practice in rural areas (37.8 to 42.2 percent vs. 10.0 to 11.8 percent, P less than 0.001), and two four times as likely to practice in areas where there is a physician shortage (26.7 to 40.0 percent vs. 9.2 to 11.2 percent, P less than 0.01). They were 7 to 10 times as likely as their peers to combine a career in family medicine with practice in a rural or underserved area (24.4 to 31.1 percent vs. 3.1 to 3.9 percent, P less than 0.001), thereby fulfilling the goals of the PSAP. This study concludes that the medical school admissions process can have a major influence on the specialty choice and geographic practice location of physicians, and suggests one mechanism for increasing the number of family physicians in rural and underserved areas.