Match 2016 Sets Record For Family Medicine Choices, But More Growth Is Needed

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The encouraging trend from the last six consecutive years continued in 2016, with a record number of graduate medical students being matched to family medicine by the National Resident Matching Program (NMRP). With a total of 3,260 spaces offered nationwide for family medicine, this year we saw a healthy fill rate of 95.2 percent for the specialty. This percentage is expected to further improve once the numbers from the Supplemental Offer and Acceptance Program (SOAP) are incorporated into the data. 48% of the family medicine positions were filled by U.S. graduating seniors, with nearly 400 more U.S. seniors matched into the specialty compared to 2009 when this encouraging trend was first observed.

These numbers are promising, but the demand for family medicine physicians still remains unfulfilled. The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care predicts that by the year 2035, there will be a shortage of an estimated 33,000 family medicine doctors in the country. Family physician retains its position as the most highly recruited role in the U.S. healthcare system for the ninth year running, reports healthcare research firm Merritt Hawkins. These numbers are reassuring, but the modest results are an indication that not enough graduating students are choosing a generalist career.

There is a pressing need to promote family medicine as a career choice among medical students. About 15 billion dollars of the taxpayer’s money are spent by the United States government on graduate medical education (GME) annually, and the citizens who finance these programs deserve the benefits of good primary care.

Better pay for primary care physicians is the single most important factor that will make it an appealing choice for students. To address the highly fragmented healthcare system’s distinctive bias towards a specialized workforce, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) released a report in 2014 listing several recommendations for GME reform, including the establishment of primary care thresholds for sponsoring hospitals and teaching institutions that benefit from Medicare/Medicaid financing. According to AAFP President Wanda Filer, this boost in student interest in primary care medicine has been concurrent with health care reform policy that introduced new incentives for family physicians.

With any luck, family medicine will continue to attract the brightest minds in medicine who have an eagerness to make measurable changes in their communities and take on leadership roles in healthcare.

Ariel Jacoby
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