Background and objectives: This study compared the knowledge of and attitudes toward primary care in relation to anticipated career choices of first-year medical students at two medical schools that differ significantly in production of primary care physicians.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted at a private, urban school in the Northeast where only a small percentage of students enter family practice residencies and a public, rural school in the Southeast where entry into family practice is among the highest in the country. The survey was conducted during the first semester of medical school.
Results: Ninety-six percent of students correctly identified general internal medicine, general pediatrics, and family practice as primary care fields; 51.8% identified these fields as "specialties." Statistically significant differences were seen between the percentages of students at the two schools who planned careers in primary care, suggesting that selection processes may differ between the two schools. There were no significant differences between students at the two schools in correctly identifying the characteristics of primary care practice. Only minor differences between the schools were found in assessments of the need for or importance of primary care.
Conclusions: Although a significant difference in student interest in becoming primary care physicians was detected at the two schools, a surprising similarity was shown in their knowledge and attitudes about primary care. New attitudinal markers will need to be developed to help admissions committees select students most likely to enter primary care careers.