It’s been about 15 years since the last surge of interest in primary care as a career, when U.S. medical graduates temporarily reversed a long decline by flocking to family medicine, general internal medicine, and pediatrics. Newly minted doctors responded enthusiastically to a widely held perception in the mid-1990s that primary care would be central to a brave new paradigm of managed healthcare delivery.
That profound change never materialized, and the primary-care workforce has since resumed a downward slide that is sounding alarm bells throughout the country. Even more distressing, the medical profession’s recent misfortunes have spread far beyond the doctor’s office.
“What we’re looking at now is that there’s a shortage of somewhere around 90,000 physicians in the next 10 years, increasing in the five years beyond that to 125,000 or more,” says Atul Grover, MD, PhD, chief public policy officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges. The association’s estimates suggest that the 10- and 15-year shortfalls will be split nearly evenly between primary care and other specialties.