Don’t expect to get a doctor’s appointment quicker or spend less time in the waiting room of your primary care physician anytime soon. According to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of 543 pre-medical students*, just 32% say they plan to become primary care physicians after earning their MD, while 68% say they plan to become specialists (i.e. cardiologist, neurologist, anesthesiologist, etc.). Of the 68% who plan to become specialists, 86% say the main reason is “academic/personal interest;” only 2% cited “better salary,” although specialists are known to make significantly more than primary care physicians.
This lack of interest in pursuing a career in primary care is troubling news for Americans at a time when the projected shortage of primary care physicians is expected to balloon from 9,000 today to about 65,000 over the next 20 years. The main reasons for the shortage: doctors from the Baby Boom generation are rapidly retiring and their fellow Baby Boomers increasingly need medical care as they age. Medical school enrollment is actually up over the past few years, but not at a fast enough clip to stem the tide.
The medical education community, led by the Association of American Medical Colleges, which represents all 141 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian allopathic medical schools, has been preparing for the physician shortage by taking several measures: building new medical schools around the country and expanding the number of seats for new students at existing medical schools—with a goal of 30% by 2015, which will result in an additional 5,000 new MD’s annually. Medical schools are also exploring the possibility of shortening medical school from its current four years to three years, so doctors go into practice quicker. This would be popular among aspiring doctors: 71% of pre-meds in Kaplan’s survey said that all other factors being equal, they’d be more likely to attend a three-year program than a four-year program.