Twenty years ago, we were aware that US medical school graduates tended to enter disciplines having the highest earning potential. Since then, income disparity between specialists and primary care physicians has widened, and medical student debt has ballooned to an astounding median of $140,000 per graduating senior.
So there is no reason to be surprised by the results of a recently published survey of graduating students from 11 US medical schools. Only 2% of respondents to this survey indicated that they planned to work in primary care internal medicine. That’s down from 9% in 1990. This year, 2,600 fewer US doctors enrolled in primary care training programs than did so just 6 years ago.
The survey revealed that low income is just one reason why US medical students steer clear of general internal medicine. They are turned off by heavy workloads, continuous hassling with insurance companies and inadequate ancillary support as well.
Still, despite a lot of public hand wringing on the matter, the US health system is not acutely endangered by this trend. New primary care venues such as retail clinics are opening up in droves, and to fill the manpower void more than 3,300 foreign medical graduates have entered primary care training programs in the last 6 years.