The U.S. healthcare system is currently in desperate need of Primary Care Physicians (PCPs). However, the allure of lucrative sub-specialties tends to sway medical school graduates away from careers in Primary Care. On average a PCP earns about half the salary of a specialist. Since most medical school graduates have very large debts to pay off, higher earning specialties are much more desirable career options. However, the core issue lies in the growing and aging U.S population.
In an effort to increase the number of Primary Care Physicians in the United States, many medical schools are actively implementing initiatives to encourage medical school graduates to pursue careers in primary care. One such initiative is the GME initiative, which recently made the following recommendations to the U.S. Congress:
- Create a workforce that is at least 40% PCPs, holding teaching hospitals accountable and increasing the primary care residency position cap.
- Provide direct GME (DME) payments of $100,000 per resident annually for programs that produce graduates who truly go into primary care.
- Provide indirect GME (IME) payments to support primary care residency education, including education outside hospitals.
- Allow states expanding Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act to increase PCP education capacity through Medicaid DME and/or IME Since more lucrative specialties generate more revenue for hospitals, these monetary incentives aim to encourage the expansion of Primary Care Residency Training Programs.
Other, more controversial, changes are being made to offset the shortage of PCPs, specifically in underserved rural areas. Recently, the state of Missouri passed a law allowing medical school graduates to work as “assistant physicians,” without going through a residency program. Instead, this new class of caregivers first must work with a certified physician for 30 days. After receiving approval from the Board of Healing Arts, they are then legally allowed to treat patients within a 50-mile radius of that same physician.
This is problematic because it puts medical graduates with insufficient experience and expertise into the field, directly providing care and medical advice to patients. It is important to ensure that each patient is being cared for by the absolute best physician possible, and laws such as these provide barriers to top-tier medicine practice.
With more practicing PCPs, there will be less incentive to bypass the lengthy medical process with policy that puts inexperienced graduates in the medical field. Thus, it is critical that this specialty is championed by hospitals and governments alike to show students the value of primary care.
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