Objective: To describe the attitudes toward and perceptions of primary care education and practice among academic health center constituents.
Design and participants: Descriptive study using confidential telephone interviews (October 1993 to March 1994) of national stratified probability samples of first- and fourth-year medical students, residents, clinical faculty, internal medicine and pediatrics residency training directors and chairs, and deans (N=2293).
Results: Five areas were examined: respondents' specialty orientation, attitudes toward the competence of primary care physicians, encouragement and positive regard for primary care, exposure to primary care-related educational experiences, and socioemotional orientation. The response rate was 84%. Respondents generally perceive primary care tasks as not requiring high levels of expertise; nearly half believe that generalists are not the best physicians to manage patients with serious illness and that the quality of primary care research is inferior to that in other fields. Attitudes are more positive toward the quality of primary care teaching. Learners perceive little encouragement for generalist careers and negative attitudes toward generalists among faculty, and view the quality of their primary care training as inferior to that for specialty practice. Those who have progressed further in the academic medicine hierarchy generally report lower levels of socioemotional orientation than individuals at earlier phases of career development.
Conclusions: Despite changes in the health care system and in education, students and residents encounter an atmosphere that is chilly toward primary care. If medical educators seek to optimize enthusiasm and preparation for primary care careers, they must develop approaches to changing the attitudes, values and composition of their faculties.