Background: To help address the geographic and specialty maldistribution of physicians, Jefferson Medical College initiated the Physician Shortage Area Program (PSAP) in 1974. This unique program, which combines a selective medical school admissions policy with a special educational program, has been shown to be successful in increasing the number of family physicians in rural and underserved areas, but it is not known whether they remain in this type of practice.
Methods: Graduates of the PSAP were tracked longitudinally and compared with their non-PSAP classmates. Information was obtained about the retention of family physicians in rural areas and areas with a physician shortage over the previous five years, the geographic and specialty choices of more recent graduates, and the recruitment of applicants into the program.
Results: Of the 47 PSAP graduates from the classes of 1978 through 1981, reported on earlier, the number who combined a career in family medicine with practice in a rural area or one with a physician shortage remained unchanged, although there was substantial attrition among non-PSAP graduates practicing family medicine in rural (32 percent) and underserved (40 percent) areas. Among the 101 PSAP graduates of the classes of 1982 through 1986, the results were similar to those for the first four classes. Overall, PSAP graduates from the classes of 1978 through 1986 were approximately four times as likely as non-PSAP graduates to practice family medicine (55 percent vs. 13 percent), to practice in a rural area (39 percent vs. 11 percent), and to practice in underserved areas (33 percent vs. 8 percent). They were approximately 10 times more likely to combine a career in family medicine with practice in a rural (26 percent vs. 3 percent) or underserved (23 percent vs. 2 percent) area. Overall, 85 percent of PSAP graduates were either practicing a care specialty or practicing in a rural or small metropolitan area or one with a shortage of physicians. In parallel with national trends, the number of applicants and matriculants to the program decreased during the past decade, so that the percentage of available places filled decreased from 97 percent to 33 percent. However, there has been a recent increase in the number of applicants and matriculants.
Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that the PSAP was successful in increasing the number of family physicians in rural and underserved areas as well as in retaining them. This suggests that medical schools can have a substantial influence on the distribution of physicians according to specialty choice and the geographic location of their practices, principally through admission criteria.