Booster Shots

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Primary care still isn't an attractive choice for new doctors

March 19, 2010 |  6:00 am

Match Thursday was Match Day, the annual rite of passage when medical school graduates at the nation's 130 medical schools are assigned to a hospital for their post-graduate training. The students request the type of specialty they want to practice as well as their top preferences for where they'd like to train.

Overall, the news Thursday wasn't great for consumers. The nation is in dire need of more primary-care doctors, but the number of medical students choosing internal medicine residencies (where they learn primary care) increased only 3.4% from 2009, according to the 2010 National Resident Matching Program report. The number of students choosing internal medicine was 2,722 this year compared with 3,884 in 1985. Moreover, only about one-quarter of internal medicine residents eventually go on to specialize in internal medicine.

Some students may avoid primary care because they won't make as much money as their colleagues in cardiology or dermatology. Meanwhile the cost of medical school keeps rising.

It's interesting that, with all of the debate over healthcare reform, the question of having enough primary-care doctors still hasn't been addressed.

"As America's aging population increases and more people gain access to affordable coverage, the demand for general internists and other primary care doctors will drastically outpace the primary care physician supply," said Dr. Steven Weinberger, an official with the American College of Physicians, in a news release bemoaning the lack of primary-care doctors.

For those students who chose internal medicine residencies -- thanks. We need you.

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Medical students cheer the news at a 2001 Match Day. Photo credit: Al Schaben  /  Los Angeles Times