The nation is experiencing the beginning of a physician shortage - with primary care being especially hard hit. As the U.S. population grows and millions of baby boomers age, this shortage promises to get worse with major repercussions for the health of the nation. The American Medical Association (AMA) is working to address this issue with new policy aimed at increasing the ranks of primary care physicians, which passed today at the AMA's semi-annual policy-making meeting.

"The decrease in practicing primary care physicians and the alarming dearth of medical students planning to pursue primary care is a problem that cannot be ignored," said AMA Board Member William Hazel, M.D. "The AMA is working to reverse this trend and to ensure adequate access to care for patients."

The AMA's new policy includes a multi-pronged action plan that gets to the heart of the decline in the number of primary care physicians by addressing medical student debt, recruitment and training, and increased payments by insurers for primary care services. One challenge facing medical students considering primary care is their substantial medical school debt. On average, a medical student graduates owing $140,000, which can lead students to consider pursuing a career in higher paying specialties. The AMA will support programs to decrease the debt load of physicians who choose to practice primary care, including scholarships and loan repayment plans.

The AMA will also conduct studies on new models of care, such as the medical home, that may improve the quality of patient care and make the practice of primary care more rewarding for physicians. The studies will evaluate the growth of these new models and the availability of expanded private or public funding for implementation.

To spur broader interest in practicing primary care, the AMA will work with other organizations, such as medical schools, to develop new and innovative ways of recruiting and training primary care physicians. This may include offering students more educational experiences in community-based settings, like smaller hospitals or rural health clinics.

"There is a predicted shortage of 35,000 to 40,000 primary care physicians by 2025," said Dr. Hazel. "With the large aging population and the increased incidence of chronic disease this is a major problem. Physicians, medical schools, lawmakers and others must work now to address the problem in order to ensure that we have enough physicians to care for patients in the years to come."

American Medical Association