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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate article

Addressing the primary care physician shortage in an evolving medical workforce

Shaheen E Lakhan* and Cyndi Laird

Author Affiliations

Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, Los Angeles, California, USA

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International Archives of Medicine 2009, 2:14  doi:10.1186/1755-7682-2-14

Published: 5 May 2009

Abstract

Background

Primary care physicians have been shown to play an important role in the general health of the communities in which they serve. In spite of their importance, however, there has been a decrease in the number of physicians interested in pursuing primary care fields, while the proportion of specialists continues to increase. The prediction of an overall physician shortage only augments this issue in the US, where this uneven distribution is particularly evident. As such, serious effort to increase the number of practicing primary care physicians is both necessary and beneficial for meeting this country's health care needs.

Discussion

There are several factors at play which contribute to the decrease in the number of practicing physicians in primary specialties. Lifestyle concerns, such as schedule and income, as well as the lack of prestige associated with this field seem to be among the most prevalent reasons cited for the diminishing interest. Multifaceted concerns such as these, however, are difficult to adequately invalidate; doing so would not only require a great deal research, but also a good deal of time – a resource which is in short supply given the current physician shortage being faced. Thus, a more immediate solution may lie in the increased recruitment and continued support of those individuals who are already associated with primary care service. This is particularly relevant given the Association of American Medical College's goal of increasing medical school enrollment by 15% over the next 10 years.

Several groups have been shown to be large contributors to primary care in the US. Here, we focus on three such groups: minority students, International Medical Graduates (IMGs) and Osteopathic Physicians (DOs). Although these groups are highly diverse individually, they all share the distinction of being underutilized in regard to the current primary care shortages faced. Thus, through more fully accentuating these resources, some of the problems being faced by this nation's healthcare industry may be ameliorated.

Summary

To improve our nation's heath and healthcare, it is our opinion in this commentary that we must determine a comprehensive approach to increase the number of practicing physicians in primary care which may include minority and underserved medical student recruitment, and acceptance of international medical graduates and osteopathic physicians. Although overtime some of the more underlying causes of primary care under-representation must be addressed, these previous options may offer more immediate aid, while recognizing and augmenting populations who already contribute greatly to our nation's medical system.