More U.S. Medical School Students Choosing Primary Care Residencies

March 18, 2013

For the fourth consecutive year, more U.S. medical school seniors chose to pursue a residency in primary care rather than to go after a specialty program, which can often be competitive. The final numbers were determined Friday, the annual Match Day, when graduating students from around the world discovered if they had been accepted into a residency at a U.S. teaching hospital, reported USA Today.

This boost in primary care applicants indicates the "health care overhaul is putting more emphasis on the need for these kinds of doctors," Jeff Cain, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, told USA Today. "We welcome this news and expect the trend to continue."

The need for additional primary care doctors, which stood at about 9,000 in 2010, is expected to rise to about 65,000 by 2025. Shortages are anticipated in other fields of medicine, too, to keep pace with the country's quickly aging population and the expectation that more Americans will gain gain insurance coverage in 2014 under the Affordable Care Act.

More than 40,000 students applied for residences this year, a record amount. They included about 1,000 additional seniors from three new medical schools graduating their first classes, reported MedPage Today. The National Resident Matching Program, the nonprofit group that pairs applicants with openings, matched about one-quarter (11,762) of the applicants to primary care, about 1,502 more positions than in 2012. In primary care, 3,135 candidates were matched to internal medicine, up 194 over last year, according to MedPage Today. In pediatrics, 1,837 matches were made, an increase of 105 positions from 2012, and there were 1,355 matches in family medicine, 33 more spots than last year.

"The specialties that have always been competitive, such as surgery, are becoming even more competitive," said Mona Signer, executive director of the NRMP, attempting to explain why some applicants may have chosen other programs like primary care.

In all, more than 25,000 applicants were offered spots, leaving nearly 40 percent of students without residencies. The lack of matches is simply because not enough residencies are available.

"Congress has refused the funding of new residencies," Darrell Kirch, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, told USA Today. "We have called for an increase of 30 percent more doctors being trained in our schools, but they can't all find residencies."

According to The Wall Street Journal, a long process leads up to the match. Fourth-year medical students first apply to several residencies of interest. Residency administrators interview select applicants. Both students and administrators rank their preferences, submit them to the National Resident Matching Program and agree to whatever matches are determined via the organization's software. The computer program's creators, Lloyd Shapley and Alvin Roth, won the Nobel Prize in economics last year for their progress in optimal matching algorithms.

Compiled by Doresa Banning


"Match Day: More medical graduates entering primary care," usatoday.com, March 15, 2013, Janice Lloyd

"Match Day: Specialty Slot Contest Good for Primary Care?" medpagetoday.com, March 17, 2013, Kristina Fiore

"New Doctors Eagerly Await 'Match Day,'" online.wsj.com, March 13, 2013, Melinda Beck

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