Fewer than 25 percent of new doctors in the United States go into primary care, and only about 5 percent open offices in rural areas, according to a new study.
There is a critical shortage of primary care doctors in the nation. These findings suggest that the number of new primary care doctors falls short of what's needed and will not solve the growing shortages in underserved areas in the near future, said the researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.
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"If residency programs do not ramp up the training of these physicians, the shortage in primary care, especially in remote areas, will get worse," study lead study author Dr. Candice Chen, an assistant research professor of health policy, said in a university news release.
"The study's findings raise questions about whether federally funded graduate medical education institutions are meeting the nation's need for more primary care physicians," she added.
The researchers examined the career choices of nearly 9,000 physicians who graduated from 759 medical residency institutions from 2006 to 2008. Three to five years after graduation, only 1 in 4 of the physicians worked in primary care. However, that figure is likely overestimated because it includes physicians who are hospitalists, Chen said.
She and her colleagues also found that 198 out of the 759 medical residency institutions produced no rural doctors during the study period, and that 283 of them produced no doctors practicing in Federally Qualified Health Centers. These clinics provide care to low-income patients and others and are often located in remote areas or poor urban neighborhoods.
The study appears online in the journal Academic Medicine.
In the United States, about 66 million people live in rural areas or urban neighborhoods with too few primary care doctors or a shortage of primary care in clinics. That means that about 1 in 5 Americans lacks access to this kind of essential care and could develop more serious health problems as a result, according to Chen.