Objectives: Title VII of the Health Professions Educational Assistance Act of 1976 was created to encourage the production of primary care physicians. This study explored recent trends in the proportion of US medical school graduates entering primary care in relationship to Title VII funding.
Methods: The American Medical Association Physician Masterfile was used to determine the specialty choice of all students graduating from American medical schools between 1960 and 1985.
Results: The proportion of graduates entering primary care rose from 19.7% in 1967 to 31.1% in 1976 and remained stable for the subsequent decade. The increase occurred before implementation of Title VII. Rural, state-owned medical schools with departments of family medicine tend to produce a greater proportion of primary care physicians than urban private schools without family medicine departments.
Conclusions: The values of American medical schools and the reward structure of American medical practice favor the production of specialists over primary care physicians. Although Title VII helped to encourage and sustain the development of primary care educational programs at both the medical student and graduate levels, an increase in the proportion of primary care physicians will require fundamental changes.