Physician Leaders and Their Accountability for Primary Care Shortage

by Francine Gaillour, MD

in Career Resilience & Fulfillment,Transformational Leadership

An article in the Wall Street Journal, “Medical Schools Can’t Keep Up” projects a shortage of 150,000 physicians in 15 years got me thinking about what role physician leaders must take in addressing what will be be a shortage of primary care physicians..

If you ask physicians how to make family medicine more attractive to residents, you’ll hear one of two answers:

1) Primary care salaries have to be higher.  In the past 15 years, when adjusted for inflation, salaries for Family medicine, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics have almost NOT budged from an ~160,000. When compared to specialty and subspecialty salaries, inflation adjusted as well, the delta is on average -$90,000 annually.  That’s hard to ignore.

2) Family Medicine, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics has to be “sexier” to medical students while in training.  I get this one — during my medical school training, Family Medicine faculty were highly visible and influential and as a result a large number of students still choose Family Practice for a career path.

The question this WSJ article prompted for me was this:  Do physician leaders, whether primary care or not, have an  obligation to “elevate” primary care specialties; i.e. to make them “sexier”?  If we’re going to crack the code to healthcare improvement and meet the objectives set forth in health reform, shouldn’t we have a strategic plan for increasing the number of primary care physicians? Where is this on the accountability plan for most CMOs, VPMAs, and system leaders?

Initiatives like Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) are wholistic approaches that will expand the role of primary care docs in practice.  But it seems to me that primary care specialties would benefit from a boost and branding strategy that recruits physician executives (e.g. recruits the ACPE) to enlarge the message.

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